A Virtual Loveby Andrew Blackman
We all present different faces to different people: dutiful family member; one of the lads or girls with friends; several faces at work (often depending whether we’re talking to someone higher or lower on the pecking order); potential mate; and our online alter ego, to list but a few. They usually show a variety of facets of our underlying personality, but pretending to be someone else to get the girl of your dreams is entirely different.
When real and virtual lives collide for Jeff Brennan (I nearly typed Jack Branning from Eastenders!), it’s all too easy to start living a lie…
Jeff B is a bit of a lad. Slacker IT consultant by day, beer-swilling pizza-scoffing video-gaming lad by night, and
caring but bored dutiful grandson when he visits his grandparents each Sunday. One of his mates, Marcus, is a political activist. Jeff finds himself going along to one of Marcus’s protests and there he bumps into Marie. He can’t believe his luck that a beautiful American girl is interested in him.
However, it’s not him she falls for, it’s his namesake. Jeff Brennan is also the name of the top political blogger in the country. She has been following and commenting on his blog for ages…
At first I never thought too much about you, the real person behind the blog. But as I read your posts in bed every night, I began to feel like you were speaking to me. The more I read, the more I felt like I knew you better than the people I saw every day.
When I told my friends about you, they teased me. ‘Find a real man, Marie,’ they’d say. ‘There’s no shortage.’ But, of course, you were real. You did exist, I just hadn’t met you yet. I’d already visited your blog, though, and left comments on it, and even emailed you. I’d scoured the web for pretty much everything you’d ever written, from the longest blog post – a three-page essay on the folly of the Iraq war – right down to the one-word replies on tech forums. I knew your views on politics, the environment and all the major issues, but I’d also seen you asking for help with your Linux interface and commenting on a recipe for blueberry and apple pie. I felt like I knew you much better than I knew a lot of my friends who denied your existence, and certainly better than a lot of the men who swarmed around me, attracted by my long black hair and my California accent but not really seeing me. You were real to me in every way except the physical, and surely that’s the least important. If I loved your mind, then of course I’d love your body too.
So when she bumps into our Jeff B at the protest, she thinks he’s the blogging Jeff B, and our one is only too happy to pretend to be the other.
Marie is confused by Jeff’s refusal to talk about his blog – that’s work! But she sort of understands his need to keep his day-job to himself, (not knowing his real one of course). It’s an easy get-out for Jeff, and Marie slots into his life, eventually moving in with him, going to visit his grandparents (they love her). Eventually, as you might imagine, living this lie begins to get out of hand – and Jeff will find himself in a difficult place…
The novel thing about this book is that we never directly hear Jeff’s point of view. The entire book is told from the voices of those than interface with him – notably his grand-father and Marie, but also his friends and colleagues, and Marcus (through his tweets). The PoV swaps each chapter between them – so we see all the effects of the different faces that Jeff presents to the world. It’s a clever construct.
But if we get to see all of Jeff’s faces, for most of the novel we are teased with not knowing the persona of the blogger Jeff – he’s an enigma. Poor Marie is befuddled by her hero-worship, and is taken in by all of this – but she’s young, she will survive. It’s his grand-father, whose life is subsumed by caring for his wife Daisy who has dementia, that we really feel for as the walls begin to crumble around Jeff.
It did take a few chapters to get into this book, getting used to the different narrators. Starting with Jeff’s grand-father and a long digression on his family heirloom clock which, in the immortal words of Pink Floyd, is ‘ticking away the moments that make up a dull day’, you might expect subsequent chapters to be equally nondescript – but this is a necessary set-up. It’s a brave choice to start a novel in this (Brooknerish?) way, but I persevered, and it changed.
Reading this novel certainly causes you to stop and think about your own identity – real and virtual. I’m quite shy and bad at small talk, but I’m sure I come across as more outgoing virtually on my blog than naturally in person. That distance enables me to act a part to a certain degree – the me I project is the me who’s already got to know you. That’s fine as far as blogging goes, but I couldn’t conceive of trying to negotiate a path through the minefields of on-line dating though!
I have made some really good friends through blogging and social networking – many of whom remain virtual. However, I have been lucky enough to meet some of my book-blogging friends in the flesh, and I can unreservedly say that they are all wonderful. Having met them on-line first so to speak can take a lot of the initial shyness away on both sides when meeting them properly. We can act as instant old friends if we’re lucky or get there more quickly, and I really like and appreciate that a lot.
I’m glad that, for me, real life doesn’t replicate that portrayed in A Virtual Love. But it is a cautionary tale, and makes one well aware that you need to pick your friends carefully. (8/10)
For another take on this novel, see David Heb’s review.
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Source: Author via his publisher. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
A Virtual Loveby Andrew Blackman, Legend Press 2013, paperback 240 pages.