Although Michaela has cut Eve out of her life, she still retains a lingering presence. Everywhere Michaela turns Eve seems to be there. Social media, television, Instagram. Her answer learnt by rote when people ask her what she was like at university,
“People are infinitely complex”.
Michaela says she hates Eve but admits to herself that she is still a bit in love with her.
Eve and Michaela met in their first year of university living together in adjacent rooms at the all-female residential college of Fairfax. She remembers the first time she talked to Eve. It was as if she was not there, Eve delivering a monologue as if Michaela had not spoken.
But that is Eve, and before long they are firm friends, with Eve saying,
“You’re the first cool person I’ve met here”.
“I’m obsessed with you”.
But is their friendship as real as it seems to outsiders? Is it a facade, intentional or not? A huge chunk of this novel is about what is real and what is perceived. What truly happened as opposed to what others think. Not just other people but ourselves. The quote from Cicero before the prologue,
“Many wish not so much to be, as to seem to be, endowed with real virtue”.
It is about toxic male behaviour, and imbalance of standards. Crossing lines and preying on innocents. It is about irony. Paul the professor of ethics, engaging in a relationship with his eighteen-year-old student. He ignores the very morals he is teaching. The question of who decides what is morally correct never broached. It is about relationships and friendships, and once again how people involved both view that relationship.
The dark side of the novel revolves around an incident that happens in the prologue. The rape of a young girl at a party on the university campus. The reader will find out quickly that the “young girl” is the narrator. It makes you think how many of these “incidents” occur and are never exposed, the guilty reveling in what for them is a win, their actions driven by a toxic culture of drinking and hazing rituals, that still exist today.
And yet the prologue is clouded in ambiguity. Michaela was drunk, she cannot even remember the name of the man. Was there consent? This integral part of the novel conforms with the whole theme of reality and perception. Rape, such an insidious crime. A crime that is so hard to prove because of that single word “consent”. Whether it was rape or not, this prologue ultimately defines the relationship between Michaela and Eve, as the reader will find out.
The characters are beautifully written, especially Michaela. She is so real, her flaws and weaknesses a stark contrast to her obvious strength. The reader feels her experiences, her love, her pain, and her happiness.
A stellar debut.
Diana Reid is a Sydney-based writer, who graduated from the University of Sydney last year with a Bachelor of Arts (First Class Hons 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 direct and write theatre performances in Sydney and over to the Edinburgh Fringe. When COVID-19 saw the cancellation of global theatre, she decided she’d spend her time in shutdown writing a manuscript. Love & Virtue is her debut novel.