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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: 'A Virtual Love' by Andrew Blackman



When this year gets over, I'm going to write a post mentioning the 10 best books I read in 2013, just like last year. I'm not sure this book will make that list, but it is surely a strong contender for the 'Discovery of the Year' honours.

Real & online identities entwine with each other in Andrew Blackman's second novel - 'A Virtual Love'. Jeff Brennan is an average guy at best, working in the IT Support section of a law firm. His namesake is Britain's numero uno political blogger, famous for his balanced views & his anonymity. So when Marie, an avid reader of the blog, assumes that the 'average' Jeff Brennan is 'the Jeff Brennan' & he doesn't correct her perception, a romance develops between the two on the basis of one lie. Jeff thinks he's found the perfect girl when his illustrious namesake decides to make his first public appearance, throwing his life into jeopardy. Will he tell Marie the truth?

Andrew Blackman won the 2008 Luke Bitmead Writers Bursary for his debut novel 'On the Holloway Road' & though I haven't read the book, I've come across favourable reviews from those who have read it. The good news is that 'A Virtual Love' doesn't disappoint either.

The style of narration in this book is not new to me, having read a couple of books written in a similar manner earlier this year. Each chapter is narrated by one particular character in this novel, but what's different is that not one single chapter is narrated by the protagonist Jeff Brennan (the average one). What this ensures is that his character is sketched by all those characters who form a part of his social life - his grandfather Arthur, his girlfriend Marie, his best friend Jon, his work colleagues Annie & Dex & even the namesake blogger gets to voice his side of events. I also liked how Blackman successfully portrays the true nature of Jeff's manipulative friend Marcus through extracts of the latter's Twitter feed. Characterisation in this novel is indeed praiseworthy.

What I liked most about this book was this sense of nostalgia that abounds especially when Jeff's grandfather Arthur takes on the mantle of narrator. I loved how the character talks about his past life as a journalist, how people around him have changed & how he feels like he's still frozen somewhere in an earlier time during his conversations with his grandson. The comments made on the subject of 'generation gap' with references to technology & online social networking through Arthur's character are very relevant to our times & I'm somehow glad that Blackman explores these themes in depth & with immense clarity. That sense of confusion in Arthur's mind regarding the difference in real & online identities of today's youth is immaculately captured in words.

There were also some parts that struck a chord, such as the incident when Jeff tries to teach Arthur about operating the computer, which sort of reminded me of my own efforts to teach my mother about using Facebook. Another one is how Jon feels deserted & left out when Jeff enters into a relationship with Marie. Thumbs up to the way these underlying sentiments are expressed.

What annoyed me about this book was its ending. It's not that the author plays too much with it, but I just couldn't bring myself to like it. It seemed like it was too abrupt & that the author just wanted to give a rather swift conclusion to the whole affair. I also thought that the plot loses a bit of steam in the second half, which was frustrating.

3.5 to 4 stars for this well-written novel by Andrew Blackman. It's not an extraordinary book, but I'd say you read it for the sense of nostalgia & because it is so much more than just real identities getting entangled with virtual ones. Recommended.


P.S. I won an eBook version of the novel in a personal giveaway by the author through his blog, and I solemnly state that it does not affect my review of the book in any way.

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