SHORT & SWEET REVIEW: VIRAL BY HELEN FITZGERALD

Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).

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The Internet can be a dangerous place. Photos, words, private moments, drunken escapades … all make good fodder for anyone wanting a little fun, validation, fame and revenge. In Viral, Helen Fitzgerald takes readers into the dark reality of viral videos. Here’s the blurb:

‘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?

In 2014 a British girl was filmed performing a sex act on 24 men in a bar in Magaluf, Spain. Once uploaded to the internet, the two-minute footage went viral. You can read about the investigation here. Fitzgerald has used this true story as inspiration to explore the ramifications of such an event. Viral is a disturbing read, particularly as a parent. This could be my child (although I hope to goodness they never get themselves in such a situation). This could be someone I know.

Through the perspectives of Su and Ruth as they deal with the fall out in their different ways, Viral highlights darker aspects of human behaviour, as well as offering insights into motivations. It’s horrifying, sobering, and in the case of Su’s parents, somewhat understandable. What stands out is the parents’ choice to support their daughter, despite hating the behaviour. Fitzgerald gives the reader a number of ‘what if’ scenarios; while Su’s choice to run is unsurprising, Ruth’s reactions are unexpected, especially given that her husband would rather focus on defending Su’s reputation online. What would you do? A well-written, thought-provoking book written by a writer who’s not afraid to tackle the hard stuff.

Available from good bookstores (RRP $29.99AUD). My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.