Love and Virtue by Diana Reid
Diana Reid’s Love and Virtue is an outstanding debut novel that balances multiple issues, including female friendship, intellectual curiosity, class and gender privilege, with a coming-of-age story.
Michaela, an 18-year-old from a single-parent family in Canberra, receives a scholarship to live in a residential college at university. On arrival, she discovers that the other students are from wealthy Sydney families, wanting the ‘out of home’ experience. Reminiscent of the narrators in both Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld and How the Light Gets In by M.J. Hyland, she becomes keenly aware of this class divide. Michaela has a sharp eye, but her vision is limited by her own insecurities. This characteristic is essential to the narrative – everything Michaela sees and feels is magnified. She is awestruck by another student, Eve, who is slightly older, confident and prepared to push boundaries. Eve also knows about a disturbing event that occurred during Orientation Week, something that is revealed in the prologue, that Michaela can’t recall.
Eve and Michaela have one class together on campus – a philosophy class taught by the charismatic Professor Paul Rosen. This class introduces Michaela to a world of intellectual and critical questioning. Discussions with Eve, the professor and other friends ensue, in scenes similar to Sally Rooney’s novels where the characters discuss the failures of capitalism. The novel begins and ends with Michaela reflecting on her and Eve’s long-ago friendship. Somewhere along the way, Eve has cruelly betrayed Michaela, even as she rises to become a prominent public figure.
Reid’s novel is timely. She explores consent, and the prevalence and under- reporting of assaults on university campuses. The ‘love’ aspect of the title refers to Michaela’s personal life. There is her love and awe for Eve; the ambiguous friendships she has with students at the all-boy residential college and her growing crush on Professor Rosen. Love and Virtue is a social, emotional and intellectual masterpiece. Choose it for your book club (make sure you have plenty of time and wine) and expect to see it on many award shortlists.