Love & Virtue chronicles the tense and dynamic ‘friendship’ between Michaela and Eve, two bold and intelligent young women during their time at a university residential college. Despite their stark differences – Eve’s radical self-assuredness, and Michaela’s basal uncertainty – their friendship flourishes in passive criticism of the moral poverty and unquestionable privilege of their college surrounding. However, when an incident occurs at O-Week that blurs the lines of consent and morality, a divide ensues shrouding Eve and Michaela’s relationship in a complex dynamic of tergiversation, virtue-signalling and betrayal.
Love & Virtue is an exceptional debut by Australian author (and recent University of Sydney Law School graduate) Diana Reid. Written in the early months of COVID-19, the novel manages to touch on issues of privilege, power and performativity with the effortless prowess of a seasoned author – already drawing well-deserved comparisons to the works of Meg Mason and Sally Rooney.
A gripping and thought-provoking campus novel, Reid presents a refreshing protagonist in Michaela, whose undercurrent of consternation hangs the reader in constant suspense. Simultaneously, despite her anxieties, Michaela feeds the reader shrewd insight after insight without any contrived didactic aftertaste. However, Reid’s skill crescendos in the creation of the novel’s frustratingly articulate antagonist, Eve – a natural evolution of the film industry’s ‘manic pixie dream girl’. In Eve, Reid crafts a character with such biting self-interest, pseudointellectual panache and a feigned air of reverie, that leaves the reader harbouring a visceral resentment that manifests as page-turning fury.
Reid, aged just 25, brings new meaning to the term precocious literary talent, and will raise the bar for a generation of young novelists. Unputdownable, her rich and resplendent detail distils the Australian campus experience with cutting insight, ultimately leading the audience to contemplate its trenchant central question: are you a good person, or do you just look like one?