Tuesday, 6 September 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

What if the worst thing you did went viral?

That's what made me pick up Viral, the new novel by Helen Fitzgerald. Not familiar with her previous books, which include The Exit and The Cry,  I decided to check this one out because of its highly interesting premise. And it has an opening line that's very attention-grabbing.

SPOILER ALERT - Before I go any further, I have to say that there MIGHT be a few spoilers in this review. I always try to avoid spoilers, however with any book I rate under 5 stars, it's only fair that I explain why. And in this case, it may involve a small spoiler or two.

Some may be familiar with 'Magaluf Girl' who, a year or so previously, was caught on camera partaking in a nightclub sex game. The video swiftly went viral, resulting in the girl being shamed and humiliated across the world. This real-life incident seems to be the inspiration behind the novel, in which a sensible, clever girl commits a lewd act on camera that she fears she may never escape from.

Su-Jin Oliphant-Brotheridge is the adopted daughter of musician Bernie and hardworking judge, Ruth. Su-Jin was adopted from Korea after Ruth's many miscarriages. However, months after bringing Su home, Ruth found herself pregnant with daughter Leah.

Despite being close as children, Su-Jin and Leah are now nothing alike. Now, at eighteen, quiet and competitive Su-Jin has her heart set on becoming a doctor and maybe even winning a Nobel Prize someday. Leah isn't so sensible, her interests lying with friends, booze and boys. When Ruth demands that Su goes to Magaluf as well to supervise her wayward sister, Leah isn't happy. When the holiday is almost over, Leah and her pals make it their mission to help overly-sensible Su lose her virginity.
Needless to say, it all goes wrong. The very next day, Su is all over the internet, doing something that she never dreamed she would ever do. With the knowledge that her life is pretty much over, Su goes on the run until she can figure out what to do next.

Meanwhile, with Leah back home, Ruth and Bernie try to piece together what happened and try to lcoate missing Su. Her daughter's lewd act is now so famous online that even she can't escape the taunts and embarrassed glances of her colleagues. Ruth vows to track down and get revenge on those she believed sexually assaulted her daughter.

This itself sounds like the beginning of an intriguing read, however it all began to get quite strange from that point on. As Su is away, planning to run until the video is forgotten, Ruth is becoming more obsessed, and crazy. Which is understandable, in a way. I felt that Ruth had spent a life of being hardworking, always sensible, and having to involuntarily let go of that sensibility does seem enough to tip a person over the edge, especially with the big incident that soon follows.

However, the events begin to get far-fetched and vastly unbelievable. The family travel to Magaluf, seem to find who they are looking for very quickly, Su is on a mission to find her birth mother, Leah becomes supportive and vows to look out for her sister. None of the events rang true, and I think it's because there's something missing in this novel.

I wanted to know more about the family - their closeness, why Leah had always behaved the way she did (it was simple to guess why, but Leah's character wasn't given much depth). Ruth's backstory was explained, but I wanted to know more about Su and Leah. After a while I grew to dislike Su.
As for the ending, I was expecting a gripping finale with well-deserved justice. As it happened, the ending of the novel seemed rushed and hastily pulled together by a huge coincidence, which left me feeling a bit cheated.

A viral video such as this can be catastrophic for a teenager - it could potentially ruin friendships, reputations, future careers and relationships, even lives. The very premise of this novel is a thoroughly interesting one, and though I can see how it might work - wanted to see it work - I feel that the concept could have been better explored.

Granted, Viral was hard to put down at first, and I felt unable to put it down until I reached the end. Helen is Fitzgerald is a very talented author and I'm definitely going to be reading more of her books. I just think that Viral wasn't as great as I had hoped it would be.

Rating: 3/5

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