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BOOK REVIEW: Viral by Helen FitzGerald

| 3 March 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Viral by Helen FitzGerald

Faber & Faber
March 2016
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell




I sucked twelve cocks in Magaluf.
So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety-six people have seen me do this. They might include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth-year biology teacher and my boyfriend of six weeks, James.

Helen FitzGerald starts her stories with a bang, and pulls the reader along as she pieces their world together for us. She doesn’t faff around with the happy life before the storm, but rather throws us right in at the “event” that is going to change these characters’ lives forever and goes back to fill in the details as they’re relevant.

In Viral, the central character is Su Oliphant-Brotheridge, adopted daughter of an American and a Scot, big sister, conscientious student, virgin.

She has mum’s blue eyes and Dad’s dark brown hair but no-one ever says either of those things even though they are all thinking it. Leah has Gran’s mouth and Grandpa’s lips and white skin like every Oliphant and every Brotheridge except me. My skin’s dark but not very, as if my Asian-ness has been left out in the rain all these years, wishy-washy, nothingy-wothingy, not a colour, but not not one either.

The event takes place in Magaluf, in the presence of her younger sister, Leah, and Leah’s two closest friends, when she is so wasted that she gives blow job after blow job to a circle of twelve men. She’s filmed, and the video goes viral, and now she refuses to return home until the next viral video makes the world forget about what they saw her do.

The guy at the fruit stall has his phone in his pocket: ping. You have a new message. Jim has shared a video. You have been tagged in a post. Barcelona is showering pings, and each one is a droplet of my shame. Ping – where’d that come from? Ping – whose inbox did I just arrive in? I’m going crazy, hearing pings. They’re talking to me: you’re disgusting, Su, revolting.

While Su’s on the run, having disposed of her phone and leaving her family no way to get in touch, her mother is doing what she can to bring those involved to justice.

The notion that Xano could be every boy and every man had crossed her mind more than once. Would a nice boy like Su’s James have filmed the scene in the Coconut Lounge? Would a good boy like Frieda’s son Eric have said ‘fucking cow, take it fucking whore?’ Would the boy next door, literally, Barry, have uploaded it? It was too sickening to dwell on, but perhaps Xano’s behaviour did not set him apart from his peers.

Ruth is used to being in control and having people do what she says; she’s a Scottish court Sheriff. So the fact that none of the men who were involved in the Magaluf situation did anything technically against the law just drives her harder in her mission for some kind of justice.


FitzGerald doesn’t shy away from the icky details; she gives us the full, uncensored story as such events might very well go down, and she looks into the dangers of technology in this modern world of ours. Her character voices are engaging and entertaining, and her books are inevitably very quick reads.

Unfortunately, in this instance, it was a little hard to truly connect with any of the characters, perhaps with the exception of Su Oliphant-Brotheridge from Doon herself.

The third-person narrative used for Ruth’s chapters (at odds with the first-person used for Su) keeps the reader from feeling like anything but an outside observer of Ruth. There is no emotion felt towards her, or to any of the others, really, and to further add to this disconnect, there is a lot of time hopping.

This technique can be used quite well in order to keep the reader guessing as to how the story ends, but in this one it only serves to leave the reader feeling displaced and confused at each scene break as to where and when they might be reading about now.

Within one particular chapter, Ruth was right near the end of the events, thinking back about the last thing her husband, Bernie, had said to her before she left on her hunt for justice, which in turn made her think back on when their girls were a growing up. Memory within a memory makes it very hard for the reader to keep a hold on what’s happening when, and adds more to the confusion than the mystery.

The writing was still engaging enough, and the idea behind the story interesting enough for me to consider myself a FitzGerald fan and I find myself eager to get my hands on her next book. Unfortunately this one tripped over itself a little too much to rate anything higher than 6/10.


Helen FitzGerald’s previous novel, The Exit, made it onto my list of Best Fiction in 2015.


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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