Review of Viral, by Helen Fitzgerald

With Helen Fitzgerald I always go someplace new & learn something I’d never thought of before, & now I know the hot place to go in Magaluf & what ‘paddle wire’ is & some fascinating new uses for it (nothing to do with either table tennis or canoeing). Unfortunately, what happens in Magaluf doesn’t stay in Magaluf, as Su, our 18 y/o principal character discovers when she unwittingly stars in a porn video that ‘goes viral’ on the internet, thanks to her sister Leah & her friends who think it amusing to see Su get drunk & get laid whilst on holiday. Su was originally named Su-Ji because she was adopted as an infant-foundling from Korea by the American-Caledonian couple Bernie & Ruth, who are respectively a musician & a sheriff. Unlike the officers here in Iowa who share the same job-title (it was originally ‘reeve of the shire’), in Scotland sheriffs do not lead a rural constabulary but are judges who try criminal cases. Shortly after adopting Su, Ruth totally unexpectedly fell pregnant with Leah, creating a complex sibling rivalry.

In Viral we follow two intertwined plot lines as Su tries to hide from her notoriety by remaining abroad & Ruth launches a parallel quest to exact ‘restorative justice’ from the sleaze-ball who uploaded the video – giving Leah a chance to expiate her complicity in Su’s disgrace by acting as Ruth’s principal agent as well as by using e-banking to keep the missing Su supplied with funds she uses to emplane in quest of her birth-mother. It’s fascinating how in my lifetime such innovations as CCTV, DNA, mobile phones & the internet have rendered many traditional plots (such as mistaken identity & missed communications) obsolete but as here have made commonplace which would previously have required pure magic. (Or @ least an ‘irrevocable letter of credit’ – am I the last person alive who remembers those?) Still, like most of Helen Fitzgerald’s stories, Viral depends on some highly unlikely coincidences & totally unexpected twists. These don’t always work in her books. Donor was a dud; too easy to suss, Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin beyond credulity, & The Exit impossible & unprofitable in any real care home. But @ her best, she’s brilliant @ sowing her stories with almost unnoticeable little details (including here the afore mentioned paddle wire) that finally & suddenly she brings together with spectacular results. (Altho’ not quite as violent, in this respect Helen Fitzgerald rivals the recently departed master of such special effects, the great Tom Sharpe!). The denouement is beyond expectation yet completely satisfying. Euripides would surely approve.

I’d not rank Viral with The Cry, & perhaps put it slightly below Dead Lovely (lol funny) & The Devil’s Staircase (where I 1st discovered Helen Fitzgerald’s novels thanks to a GR group & whose setting brought back memories of my own summer as a 20-something Yank living in London’s Kangaroo Valley). Still, it’s a solid four-star, equally (as the Roman poet specifies) for the ‘profit & delight’ of YAs embarking on holiday & OAPs travelling vicariously in their lounge chairs.

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