Viral – Helen Fitzgerald
Faber and Faber
Reviewer – Lesley Vick
So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.
When Leah Oliphant-Brotheridge and her adopted sister Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.
Ruth Oliphant-Brotheridge, mother of the girls, successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? And can Ruth find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn’t want to be found?
Review – Lesley Vick
The first shocking sentence of this book is an indicator of what is to come. Not only an unnecessarily high proportion of foul language, but, on the good side, a salutary story of the dangers and pitfalls of social media. The latter aspect dominates the story rather more than any mystery but the perspective of the person who is appears in the embarrassing video that goes viral is an interesting approach. 18 year old, Korean-born Su Lin has been filmed performing a sex act on a number of men while on an end of school holiday in Magaluf, watched by her sister Leah and friends. We see not only how Su Lin is affected but also those around her, especially her respectable, adoptive mother Ruth who seems to lose any sense of discretion as she becomes determined to get justice for her daughter and to bring to account those she believes took advantage of Su Lin.
Ruth was closer to her adopted daughter than to her biological daughter, Leah, who was close in age to Su but (prior to the holiday video incident) had been the difficult child whereas as Su had been what used to be called a goodie two shoes, destined to study medicine and always responsible. The changed situation after the video goes viral also causes Su to grapple with her identity and go in search of her biological mother. The backstory of Su Lin’s adoption is important and the relationships between the characters, especially Ruth, her husband Bernie and their daughters are well-developed. Perhaps surprisingly, given the dark subject matter, the book is often humorous. Although I can’t say I really enjoyed this book it is very topical from a social commentary point of view. It is insightful about intergenerational relationships and the story is pacey and well-written with a somewhat unexpected ending.