Sand on the campus of a prestigious Sydney university, Diana Reid’s debut novel, Love and Virtue, is told through the dry, witty perspective of Michaela, a freshman who lives on a scholarship to Fairfax College. She befriends the girl in the room next to her, Eve, and their relationship becomes the catalyst for this book’s narrative, which is rooted in feminism, sexuality, and the conscious intellectual and social discovery that marks the majority. .
Michaela is smart and courageous, trying to harmonize two worlds with a certain dissonance: the drunken party of her classmates in college, and the intellectual melting pot of her classes and her friendship with Eve. She is a young woman eager for academic knowledge, but her ambition is always intimidated by the desire for social approval from her peers.
It’s a book that deals with unrequited love, the deconstruction of social and political class, the unboxing of power and subordination in romantic relationships, wrapped up in a coming-of-age narrative. It is also a scathing indictment of the rape culture on Australian college campuses.
I was a college student in the mid-2000s, when revelations about ritual hazing and student sexual assault on college campuses dominated the headlines, and the picture Reid painted is incredibly familiar. Michaela is subjected to a drunken game of ‘never have I ever’, which reveals among her classmates a sexual partner with whom she was too drunk to remember sleeping, but who clearly shared her exploits on the campus. He is congratulated as she is publicly humiliated.
It’s the kind of social minefield that Michaela and her peers navigate on a daily basis. They thirst for integration and are ready to sacrifice their dignity and integrity in this quest. Michaela insightfully reflects on the fact that the young men she engages with on campus on a daily basis are unlikely to be affected by their sleazy youthful deeds, as they have financial power and privilege on their side.
Meanwhile, as her friendship with Eve continues to grow, Michaela longs to step into the intellectual world she sees in the articulate and confident character of her friend. This desire becomes personified in Professor Paul Rosen, with whom Michael quickly becomes entangled and who becomes the counterweight in his social swing between youthful life on campus and the more engaging, adult world that awaits him after college.
Love and Virtue is a wonderful first novel. The writing is punchy and intelligent, with characters so deeply drawn that they feel like friends and enemies from a past life. Michaela is a refreshingly complex narrator, clearly imperfect in her judgment but also painfully honest, allowing the reader to access all the humiliating and dizzying heights she experiences.
Reid, like so many younger novelists these days, has been compared to Sally Rooney, but her protagonist isn’t the jaded, distant woman who figures in so many of these novels – both Rooney and the ones she cares about. its ratings. Instead, Michaela is emotional, imperfect, complicated. Perhaps the one aspect of her that doesn’t ring quite true is her reluctance to confront the young man who transgresses her sexual autonomy (“the assault” doesn’t seem right in the context of exploring the novel. victimization and empowerment). As an otherwise outspoken feminist ready to go against the social status quo, this reaction from Michaela seems inconsistent with her character development.
Likewise, the relationship between Michaela and her teacher seems a bit bland in what is otherwise a very fresh and gripping novel. Professor Rosen is only about ten years older than the students he teaches, but he already has the soft, hollow physique of a man past adulthood and a cranky demeanor that suggests his dissatisfaction with the matter. to where his life has taken him. Her desire to regain her youth by sleeping with an 18-year-old sounds like an obvious clichÃ©, and Michaela’s attraction to him doesn’t quite match her character.
Also shocking is Michaela’s obsession and eventual betrayal of Eve, announced in the novel’s opening pages. Reid draws Eve in thick lines – she is conventionally beautiful but also socially alternative, incredibly intelligent and at the same time obnoxious. At one point, as if to really hammer home the unique depth of their friendship, Eve kisses Michaela – a titillating moment that seems to add nothing but scandal to their already strained friendship, and feels like a cheap use of the sexuality in what is otherwise a very heteronormative novel.
However, these inconsistencies do not detract from what is ultimately an engaging and thought-provoking novel that has come back to me several times in the weeks since I read it. Love and Virtue is a multi-layered book that will satisfy those looking for a page turner to devour in a few sessions, as well as those looking to be challenged on conceptions of power, gender, and choice in the Age of Power. identity.