Published on 4 February 2016 by Faber and Faber
The darkest, most gripping novel yet from the acclaimed author of The Exit.
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?
The opening line of Viral is shocking, appropriate and mind blowing. This is a very modern tale of a good girl going bad and how the whole world gets to know about it, via social media. One mistake in our technological internet age and your life can change.
The story introduces us to Su, an adopted child of Ruth and sister to Leah. Su is pretty much the perfect daughter, on her way to university to become a doctor and make her mark in the world. Su goes on holiday to Magaluf and is lead astray. A viral video of her performing a sex act on a line up of men is posted online. Su’s life changes, with the ripples impacting on her parents and her future. This is a tale of how people try to make sense of this, of justice and how to move on.
Helen Fitzgerald does an amazing job tapping into very up to date moral issues. It made me worry about the world we live in, where young people behave so recklessly and without thought for the consequences. I do not think anyone can read this without having some opinion about the sexual behaviour of young people on holidays abroad, in places like Magaluf. I think we have all seen the lurid newspaper reports and formed our own conclusions about the men and women involved. The blaming is unfortunately very gendered and concentrated on the women. I could not help but feel incredibly sad for all concerned.
Fitzgerald wonderfully fills in all the gaps. What kind of girl would perform a sex act on multiple men she doesn’t know? What are the consequences for her? How would it feel to be in that position and to know that everybody in your life has seen you in your weakest compromised moment? Su felt like a very realistic character and I did find myself understanding her over the course of the novel. As a bright girl, I felt that she would move on from this successfully and not let it hurt her in the long term. Su was very lucky to have a strong supportive adopted mother in the background, completely there for her.
Viral gives the reader much to think about. It reflects badly on our society; how quickly we all judge and how the private becomes public at the touch of a button. With the vulnerability of the naive young to revenge as a form of justice, from identity to getting back your self esteem, Viral is pretty multi-layered. The book is probably a reminder of why parents should think twice about letting their offspring go abroad to places like Magaluf. Recommended.