#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · contemporary fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: Love & Virtue by Diana Reid

Title: Love & Virtue

Author: Diana Reid

Published: September 29th 2021

Publisher: Ultimo Press

Pages: 320

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4 stars

Feminism, power and sex play out through the eyes of young Australian uni students in a contemporary narrative that is fiercely authentic

Whenever I say I was at university with Eve, people ask me what she was like, sceptical perhaps that she could have always been as whole and self-assured as she now appears. To which I say something like: ‘People are infinitely complex.’ But I say it in such a way—so pregnant with misanthropy—that it’s obvious I hate her.

Michaela and Eve are two bright, bold women who befriend each other their first year at a residential college at university, where they live in adjacent rooms. They could not be more different; one assured and popular – the other uncertain and eager-to-please. But something happens one night in O-week – a drunken encounter, a foggy memory that will force them to confront the realities of consent and wrestle with the dynamics of power.

​Initially bonded by their wit and sharp eye for the colleges’ mix of material wealth and moral poverty, Michaela and Eve soon discover how fragile friendship is, and how capable of betrayal they both are.

Written with a strikingly contemporary voice that is both wickedly clever and incisive, issues of consent, class and institutional privilege, and feminism become provocations for enduring philosophical questions we face today. 

Review:

A real, raw and unflinching fictional account of life as a first-year university student in Sydney, Love & Virtue is the dynamic debut novel from Diana Reid. Bravely taking on themes of power, class, privilege, feminism and consent, Diana’s Reid’s first book is destined to become one of the most talked about titles of 2021.

Diana Reid introduces two late teen girls to head her first novel, Love & Virtue. Michaela and Eve become firm friends when they are placed in nearby rooms on campus at their new university home. It doesn’t take long before these two girls strike up a strong but precarious relationship. Personality wise, the two girls differ greatly. One is bright and bubbly, while the other is more understated. But an unforgettable sexual encounter occurs which throws the friendship off kilter. The girls most consider the cost of friendship, power, status and consent following this assault. While they to forge ahead with their studies and future plans, both discover the true meaning of friendship, alliances and betrayal. Narrated with depth, truth and reality, Love & Virtue is the startling first novel from a progressive new writer in the publishing world.

The author of Love & Virtue, Diana Reid, is a recent graduate of the University of Sydney.  It is understandable that this Sydney based writer felt the need to pen a manuscript during the COVID-19 lockdown on life as a college student in the capital of New South Wales. Love & Virtue is a bold, poised and analytical novel that tackles the culture of higher education settings. With themes of power, feminism, gender, class and status all coming into play, Diane Reid’s debut is a very timely novel.

Overall, there were many aspects of Love & Virtue that I valued. I think ultimately that this book has come a little too late for me, as I experienced the university scene over two decades ago now. I wish this book was released around 2000, which is when I was in the thick of my university course experiences. However, there was a touch of nostalgia that came with reading and listening to this one via Audible (my chosen format for this one). It is good to see a fresh new author emerge who is willing to tackle this college life setting from an Australian angle. I think Reid did an excellent job of portraying the typical life of a first-year university student in Australia, via the cast of this story.

It was interesting to observe the direction and tone of this novel come from an almost philosophical angle, which was quite unique for a contemporary Australian novel. Reid also bravely takes on debatable themes of ownership of experiences, sharing stories, power, privilege, status, consent, morality, opportunity, love, authority, secrets, friendships, loss and feminism. I thought the situations and scenarios Reid placed her cast members in throughout the novel were extremely credible. Even though I am much older than the protagonists featured in Love & Virtue, I was able to step into their shoes and weigh up how I would respond to the same problems. It felt uncomfortable at times, but Love & Virtue is a book that will test you, instead of leaving you content. We definitely need mores stories out there that tackle the issues that Reid is so willing to critically interrogate. Hopefully this is just the start of a new trend or style of books that challenge current ideas around social privilege and class structures.

I fear there is a lot more to be said about this one, but I think I will keep this review short and sweet. The amount of social media buzz this impressive debut has received since this book was published just over a month ago says it all. Love & Virtue is definitely an icebreaker and a conversation starter. I am happy to recommend Diana Reid’s fierce debut novel to contemporary fiction readers.

Love & Virtue by Diana Reid is published on 29th September 2021 by Ultimo Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

Love & Virtue is book #100 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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