April 2, 2013

Book Review: A Virtual Love by Andrew Blackman

Andrew Blackman has written a remarkable novel, A Virtual Love, which explores the differences between actual and virtual personas (masks) in a digital age. Even as I write this I am aware of the subtleties of these distinctions that the novel also acknowledges while creating layered ironies in the development of the plot. Set in England and narrated from multiple perspectives, A Virtual Love presents a cast of digital natives, who negotiate actual and virtual realities in an attempt to control their increasingly fragmented lives.

The main character, Jeff Brennan, who appears to be a dutiful grandson, harbors a secret that threatens to unravel his offline and online identities. In order to gain the attention of a beautiful woman, Marie, he has tricked her into believing that he is the famous political blogger, Jeff Brennan. As he tries to balance his actual and virtual relationships with Marie and his friends, he draws everyone, include his grandfather in his conspiracy to deceive Marie. You see where this is going, right?

Actually, you won't.

The moral center of the novel, Arthur Standhope, the main character's grandfather, bristles at his implication in the deception. Eighty years old and grounded in the verities of daily living, Arthur's role as interlocutor highlights his grandson's dilemma.

'It's my identity. It's what I show to the world.'
Something screamed inside my chest. This is not what identity is formed of, I wanted to say. I wanted to tell you all the things I have learned in my long, long decades on this Earth. I wanted to stop you from making the same mistakes as everyone else. I wanted to help you to be wise instead of clever. I wanted all this, but knew it would never happen. You'd never listen, or if you did you'd never understand. 'That's nice,' I said.

A Virtual Love, which I'd only downloaded as a sample to my Kindle reader on Friday night, had me returning to the Amazon s store on Saturday morning to buy the full text  I finished reading it late in the afternoon. I am still deconstructing the plot twists and reversals in a novel whose subject has intrigued me since I started blogging eight years ago. But A Virtual Love isn't only for admitted technophiles. It's novel for anyone who loves to be seduced by characters whose desires and this means that they use to fulfill them are in conflict with a reality for which there is no Undo button.

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