Love & Virtue / Diana Reid / June-July 2022  / 
Some brave topics

story / Book Club / July 17, 2022

So, book club this month was a challenge to get sorted. We love to put pressure on ourselves to do all the things and then relax that pressure when life (or really, our jobs…) happen. So, Love & Virtue, as presented by Rosie, Justine and Danielle. Juz hadn’t read the book but came along (reading the book – not a prerequisite!)

A little about Diana Reid. She is a Sydney-based writer, who graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts (First Class Hon Philosophy)/Laws. In January 2020, her career in theatre was off to a promising start: the musical she co-wrote and produced, 1984! The Musical!, debuted and she was set to head over to the Edinburgh Fringe. Of course, the pandemic happened, which saw the cancellation of global theatre, and she turned to writing. Love & Virtue is her debut novel.

It goes without saying that all our reviews include a ‘spoiler alert’ disclaimer.

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Danielle: I think that my problem with it was…

Rosie: Everything?

Danielle: Ha. I think it’s that there is a lot of ‘grey’ in the story. Which is frustrating because I think that’s how patriarchy always paints consent. ‘Oh, it’s grey, so women are just making it an issue…’

Rosie: I think my frustration with it was like a perfect storm situation, this happened, then this happened, then this happened…trying to get so many big topics into a conversation and because of that they weren’t authentic in a way. And I think you are supposed to hate the narrator, but I really hated her.

Danielle: Did you really? I don’t know if I had that much hate. But do you know what I had hate for? Is the general tone of it. I don’t know if you have read Wild Abandon, but I have a problem with both these books in that they feel like someone who has had a very specific experience of a very privileged, intellectual, “hipster” Uni experience. It’s like extreme-hipster-cultural-atmosphere-creation. The book knows it’s cool. In both books the main characters are kids from the country and what is presented is how they would perceive these ‘inner city intellectuals’ …it’s so self-aware of itself and hipster in its style and I can’t read it without thinking, ‘that’s not actually how people talk or act as an eighteen-year-old at Uni.’ It’s too intellectual for its own good. That’s why the narrator is frustrating. You’re wondering – how are you even thinking like this? You’re eighteen.

Rosie: I do think the writer went to college. That was f*cking authentic. PTSD! And college is kind of a cult. You wouldn’t be able to have the foresight that these characters have about the environment that they are in, immediately. It’s taken me a good six years post college to be like, ‘oh wait, that was f*cked.’ You can’t really see it when you are in it. These guys are calling it as they go. She also did a good job of describing that insular, private school vibe well. That whole mentality of ‘oh let’s just go down to the private beach house’ – she either went to a private school or engaged with that crowd.

Danielle: I’m hoping it’s aware of its performativeness. ‘He played songs that I don’t remember, hooking his phone up to a dongle. I looked out the window, his jumper stretched over my knees, my face stiff with salt, and saw myself as a worthy subject for a film with an indie soundtrack.’ The characters too mature. Maybe it’s a generational thing and Gen Z are more engaged and intellectual than us. It was like reading an episode of Gilmore Girls…popping out references everywhere…how do you know all that sh*t? You don’t, you’re eighteen. Exhausting. And what is the hipster obsession with Middlemarch? Is the reference there to draw parallels with this story?

Rosie: Big theme – Consent. And I think the story and the way that it comes about is relatable. And I think in those insular environments – maybe school, maybe college, that being in these insular environments, getting drunk, having sex with someone, maybe not remembering it, maybe remembering it, that happens all the time. And to reflect on it and be like, maybe I didn’t want to do that, maybe I did it because of social pressure, or I was drunk? I think that is so relatable for so many women. The more conversations I have with my friends around that grey area – which I know you hate – there is a huge space between enthusiastic consent and just going along with something. The more that we talk about that the better.

Danielle: I don’t think that’s grey. I think there is a clear definition of enthusiastic consent and what’s not. I think what is grey here, is I don’t think the narrator has a problem with what happens. Maybe consent didn’t exist, (and I don’t think it did exist here…), but she doesn’t see it as a problem. If you don’t consider someone reaching out and touching your boob a problem…then is it a problem? Basically, was the crime was committed if the victim doesn’t see it as a crime? I don’t have the answer.

Justine: I find it so hard…because I don’t know?

Danielle: Is it in the eye of the beholder? Is it your interpretation of what happened? I think it’s the truth that our own perceptions and judgements can be murky. Perceptions of the situation when you’re in it can be hard to form. And we usually centre on male perception, on whether they think they had consent or not. Now we are focusing on the female perception of consent and because she doesn’t seem to care – we are confused by it.

Justine: Is that what she is trying to invoke? To play that devil’s advocate on the topic.

Danielle: I think she is.

Justine: It’s the reality of how people maybe view the situation.

Rosie: There is a chapter – and I’m typically not a Shameless fan, but I had to read the Shameless book before a book club and the last chapter, is about this bad sex situation. She essentially talks about a sexual experience with someone that wasn’t fully consensual, but she was such good friends with him, and he was part of her friendship circle. She never thought of it as non-consensual until five years later and she realised – actually, I just went along with it to make him feel comfortable. Maybe now the narrator doesn’t see it as a problem, but at some point, she might…There’s no easy answer.

Danielle: But that’s still a decision, right? She has decided not to blow up a friendship group, like the narrator decides not to besmirch this dead guy’s name. She decides it’s not worth it. The consent rests with you right? She’s made a decision about how to treat the situation and that should be her decision. Whereas Eve decides it’s not her decision and goes off to do what she does.

That often happens with feminism. People take peoples experiences and stories and use it to push their own agenda, or to forward an agenda. You aren’t that person, and you don’t know how they are thinking or feeling, so do you have the ability to speak on their behalf? Different when you are telling a story on someone’s behalf, authentically. But taking that story and using it for your own agenda – maybe a bit strong – but that’s another rape in the story. And Eve forms a career out of it.

Rosie: There is so much to be said about, ‘no conversation about us, without us’. Whether it’s undertaking inclusive design and consulting people who have differing abilities. Undertaking indigenous design and actually having involvement from indigenous persons. How hard is it if you are going to have some sort of gender policy – to use the women in your organisation…!? It’s exactly the same thing. I can’t say ‘oh this is important for a person in a wheelchair’ I don’t know? I can try to educate myself as much as possible and Eve is clearly educated, but she has taken the story.

Justine: Does the narrator have any feelings about what happens?

Danielle: It ends their friendship. And it’s the kind of friendship with a really mixed dynamic.

Rosie: It’s very competitive.

Danielle: She wants to be Eve basically. She’s from the country and Eve is to her, this fully formed person (who doesn’t exist at eighteen!).

Rosie: We’re all dickheads at eighteen.

Justine: I mean we all have those – not crushes – but people that…you think are perfect.

Danielle: True.

Rosie: I wrote notes on how condescending Eve is to the narrator, about it – it was rape, don’t you know? And the narrator is like ‘ahhhh…?’ Was it? It’s also very white feminism – this perfect, smart, young, beautiful woman…

Danielle: With everything going for her, all the privilege…

Rosie: Yeah, stealing her story.

Danielle: Like every white feminist ever.

Rosie: Another key theme – privileged white boys. There was a quote about how the media talks about how important these boys are, and that just feeds into their mentality that they are important. They already have tickets on themselves, and then society perpetuates it. You know ‘elite, private school boys doing this on a tram…’ why not just ‘wankers on a tram’ and they talk about it really well in the book.

Danielle: She has some great lines around this, I wrote this quote ‘At the very least, intelligent enough to realise that nothing is sexier to a young and fragile man, than not understanding what he is saying.’

Rosie: Ha! Also, she is friends with all these privileged white boys in the story and she is authentically friends with them, and they don’t even realise what they are doing is wrong. And I’ve noticed that in some of the friendship circles I’m in, as soon as I call someone on being an arsehole, they are authentic in their response, confused that no one has challenged them in their environment, ever before. And whilst I’m not saying that the onus is always on you to educate yourself because we all live in a privileged little bubble, but the writer did it quite well in the book where she paints a picture of their entire friendship circle – private schools, college, end up being the CEOs, living in this bubble the whole way through life and no one seems to ever challenges them.

My last key thing was around power dynamic. The relationship around the professor. Sure, it was consensual, and the narrator was the initiating force in the relationship, but the way that it’s written is like this new age sex positive conversation and it doesn’t even talk about the power dynamic issues.

It’s not even an age thing. She is his student, and the dynamic is never even.

Danielle: As soon as you must park out of sight to drop her off, you know it’s not ok. Right?

Rosie: Also, why the f*ck did the author talk about strangulation as a request from a female partner?! It’s a huge issue in society and there so many statistics around domestic violence and how many people use strangulation in sex that go on to murder partners, and it’s just completely unnecessary.

Danielle: It’s a thing that the book didn’t need.

Rosie: Exactly. You’re trying to be woke, you’re trying to talk about what’s going on in society, but it’s such a huge issue and the statistics are bad (we have linked here to an insightful Elle magazine piece on the topic). We are trying to talk about all these things, but none well enough…I got angry…

Danielle: It’s almost the criticism we had with Honeybee there is so much going on, it could have been simpler by following one thread.

Rosie: My last huge gripe happened in the last few pages. Where she has this good friend and he has been a great support to her throughout, and then turns out he is in love with her. I would just like any book, at any point, to just celebrate male and female friendships, where someone doesn’t have to be in love with the other person.

Danielle: Agree. Look, I know you must write a story and catastrophise everything. But it could be simpler!

Justine: Rating?

Rosie: I wouldn’t recommend it I don’t think.

Danielle: I would give it a 3. It’s readable and there’s some good things going for it. And considering it’s her first book, it’s got some chops.

Rosie: And she took on some brave topics, things that others are not really going in for.

Danielle: Am I dying to read it again right now, no.

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