Both literally and metaphorically tangled.
Publisher: Legend Press
First Published: 1st April 2013
Date Reviewed: 7th April 2013
When Jeff joins his activist friend, Marcus, at a protest, he ends up giving his name to a woman who mistakenly believes he is a famous political blogger. Interested in Marie, Jeff keeps up a pretence, saying he goes to an office to blog when he’s really at a 9-5, and moving conversation away from ‘his’ blog by saying he doesn’t want to talk about work at home. But how long can it last?
A Virtual Love is a particularly ‘current’ work that looks at a great many themes via the main premise. Narrated by everyone but the main character, the book studies issues such as old age, the affects of loneliness, and, of course, the power (or in some cases destruction) wielded through technology.
What is apparent from the start is that this book isn’t going to contain your standard narration. Many novels use multiple narrators, but Blackman presents a particular sort of second-person. Every word in the book is addressed to Jeff, but it’s apparent that Jeff is not there to hear it. The atmosphere offers up solutions such as a witness statement, or revengeful letter, the very fact of Jeff’s absence being much like the fluidity of personality on the web that Blackman examines. And as each person presents a different version of Jeff to the one previously, at least in most cases, it opens the discussion to reality. Jeff has many profiles online, but of course in real life there are differences, too.
The range of narrators inevitably means that a further reference to personality can be made. The narrators are all unique enough that it doesn’t matter in the least that on occasion Blackman takes his time before formally identifying, for the reader, whose account they are currently reading. Each character has their own voice and is strongly situated in their own contexts and backgrounds; the style of writing differs per chapter. This can be quite a shock when you’ve settled into the routine days of Jeff’s grandfather, only to turn the page to the swearing and prejudice of Jeff’s friend.
That said, the text does of course retain throughout the same basic features that signify Blackman’s own voice. Short sentences lead to a slower pace of narration, at delectable odds with the speed of broadband and the way thoughts are soon lost under the deluge of newer thoughts. And whilst the premise may be of interest in our modern times, somewhat ironically up-to-the-minute, it is perhaps the issues behind this that will remain with you in the long-term. Rather fitting, really.
And the issues are big, ranging from the moment to the eternal. Blackman studies old age and the way there is that gap of understanding between the generations. A certain thread explores the lack of understanding between the current older generation’s relative slowness when compared to today’s instant world. Blackman looks at political issues and key figures, at work-life balance and work places in general – indeed some chapters can feel monotonous until you realise that’s the point. And unsurprisingly there is love, and the identity of those who bask in the glory of others. Computer topics such as hacking and maintaining a web presence obviously play a part in the book. And there are the scary details that are always in the background – how does one react when identities are stolen, how easy is it to lose yourself in that manner, and how should we be presenting ourselves online in the first place?
Amidst all this you would expect no lasting humour, but there is some to break away from what you discover is an accurate description of most people’s lives. And you want to break away because reading the words unmasks just how boring routine can be.
There are a couple of points to contend with. Marie refers to herself as a blogger, mostly at the start, but appears to forget to write once she starts her relationship with Jeff. And one must wonder that for all the successful lying from Jeff, she would not have noticed, for example, that he had a suspect Twitter account (Marcus discusses their relationship there, openly). But then given Marie’s infatuation with the man she believes is her hero, and some words later on that suggest that Marie’s purity of intentions are in fact not at all in the ‘right’ place, these are not as important a couple of problems as they might have been. Undoubtedly there is that factor of unreliability with the narrators. The ending may also prove unexpected – what you may expect is not necessarily what Blackman wished to look into. In fact if he had it might have detracted from, and thus devalued, everything he had wanted to say.
A Virtual Love does not expose Internet issues in the world – those have been studied and discussed many times already. What it does do is look at the issues from a specific viewpoint, the very narrowness of its scope leading to unique observations that are important, ones that are often forgotten and deemed as minor. It won’t keep you up at night flipping pages for intrigue, because as the reader you know what’s been going on, but it will keep you flipping pages for what it does include. This is a book that is so relevant right now that you might be surprised at how quickly you finish it, its accessibility spanning many levels. You might not like the characters – who could? – but you might just like this book. A lot.
I know the author as a fellow book blogger.
April 15, 2013, 8:56 am
Excellent review of what sounds like a complex but very intriguing novel Charlie – you’ve caught my interest.
April 16, 2013, 5:56 pm
At first glance, I wondered if this book would be about such internet issues as honesty and integrity, but I’m glad to see it isn’t. It sounds like it is much more than that. I am glad you enjoyed this one, Charlie.
April 17, 2013, 3:59 am
Interesting premise and structure! I think anything that examines our current fascinating online world is bound be thought-provoking.
April 25, 2013, 11:09 am
Jo: Thank you! It’s an interesting one because it’s both complex and relatively simple – in that it is indeed complex but easy enough to read and enjoy.
Literary Feline: There is a thread of honesty in it, but it is much to do with coping with the effects of dishonesty rather than honesty/dishonesty itself. There is a lot to it :)
Anbolyn: Yes, it’s one of those areas it seems we can talk about endlessly, in part, I’d say, because we still haven’t worked it all out yet.