Viral by Helen FitzGerald

When I threw my hat in the ring to win a copy of Viral by Helen FitzGerald, I was under the impression that it was YA novel. Or rather, ’emerging adult’ (or whatever the genre is for books aimed at late teens that include sex-drugs-language lite).

I won (yay!).

The book arrived. I read the first line –

“I sucked twelve cocks in Magaluf. So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety-six people have seen me do this.”

…and knew immediately that this was not a ‘cautionary tale’ for emerging adults.

It’s basically the story of a girl, Su, who does something in a nightclub (she’s drunk). She’s filmed by a stranger and the video goes viral. The consequences for her and her family are extensive.

There are elements of this story that are done well – obviously the humiliation associated with such a film is thoroughly explored, as is the shady line between consenting to oral sex in a public place versus having that oral sex filmed and uploaded to YouTube.

“You must know there’s no offence here Ruth, just an unfortunate case of involuntary pornography.”

Involuntary pornography? Shit.

While interesting, the involuntary pornography part of the plot felt a little Jodi Picoult* for my liking. I was far more interested in FitzGerald’s portrayal of the relationship between Su and her sister, Leah. Su was adopted by Ruth and Bernie, as a baby from Korea. Leah is Ruth and Bernie’s biological child. As well as examining the unusual tensions in this relationship, FitzGerald also uses Su and Leah to contrast the role of the ‘good’ child (the hard-worker, the parent-pleaser) and the ‘bad’ child (poor grades, stays out partying, hangs around with the wrong people).

“Like all things that intoxicate, Leah did so fleetingly, and caused a bad hangover the rest of the time.”

So what didn’t I like about this story? There were simply too many coincidences, too many turn-of-events that allowed for neat conclusions, too many tricks. I also wasn’t completely convinced by Su’s behaviour – for a smart girl, she was incredibly stupid (not the cock bit, but a hundred bits after that). Su becomes a bit unhinged at one point and I just didn’t buy it.

2/5 Started strongly (except for the sucking-cocks-bit) but fell flat (please note that I avoided any reference to a limp finish… except that I just said limp….).

There’s only one thing to have with Viral – Jägerbombs!


*not that there’s anything wrong with that… I just find her stories follow a formula.

12 responses

    • It is such a grey area and one that might never be clear-cut. The book grabbed my attention because I have a house full of teens and pre-teens and I know this is the kind of stuff they’ll have to understand. Direct them straight to Jane Austen, I reckon… 😉

      • I feel so far removed from today’s “emerging adult”, that I’m afraid my mindset is absolutely Victorian…certainly not like that of the self indulgent Prince Regent during the time of Jane Austen.

        If I had (pre-) teenage daughters, I’d be preaching sense and sensibility to them, emphasizing personal pride without overwhelming them with my own prejudices; I’d be using every type of persuasion to keep them from acting like that cocquette, Emma, who lives on Mansfield Parkway. And, If I felt like I was totally losing control, I’d probably threaten to send them all to that strict, private girl’s school…what’s it called…oh yes, Northanger Abbey.

  1. This sounds absolutely terrifying (I also have teens and pre-teens at my house). I think I will avoid it and reach for my Anne of Green Gables (Jane Austen is good too!).

    • Agree because that’s about as out-there as it gets. Brought to mind a similar book, The Privileges by Jonathan Dee, which is told from the perspective of the kid who takes the movie (I think). From memory, an excellent book.

  2. Pingback: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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