Book Review

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

After completing their A-Levels, Leah and her adopted sister Su go on holiday to Magaluf to celebrate.  Two weeks later, only Leah returns home.  Su has gone into hiding, after a video of her performing a sex act in a nightclub goes viral.

Ruth, their mother, is a court judge, and is furious about this.  Not at Su, who she believes was either pressurised into performing this act, too drunk or had even had a drink spiked – but at the men who took advantage of her.  She is also angry with Leah, for not taking better care of her.

Ruth sets out on a mission to bring her daughter home, and to make those responsible pay for their actions.

I have slightly mixed feelings about Viral.  Overall, I enjoyed it – I think that the subject matter works well and is extremely topical (I couldn’t help but think of Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed which I read earlier this year).  However, some of the actions of the characters weren’t entirely plausible, and I couldn’t help but think “who would do that!?” and this took away some of the enjoyment for me.

Su is presented as being an extremely clever girl.  She’s always polite, and generally comes across as being quite naïve, and so her actions in Magaluf are all the more shocking.  Leah, on the other hand, comes across as being a party girl.  She smokes weed, she’s sometimes a bit rude, she swears a lot and is generally quite a feisty character.  This contrast means that the two don’t get on particularly well, despite them being so close in age.  One thing that I thought that Fitzgerald did really well was the exploration of their relationship.  Su believes that Leah hates her – she calls her names and is generally quite mean, and Su just takes it on the chin.  But as is often the case, things aren’t so one – sided, and I thought that the way that these events brought the two girls together and made them examine their relationship added a really interesting element to the novel.

Overall, I enjoyed Viral.  It’s fast-paced and easy to read.  Whilst it wasn’t entirely believable – some of Ruth’s actions in particular are a little far-fetched – this is a good, solid thriller with plenty of twists to keep the reader engaged.

Viral will be published in February 2016.  Many thanks to Sophie Portas at Faber & Faber for providing a copy for review.

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