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Fiction

Virtual Love by Andrew Blackman

Virtual love

Until I read this book, I look around and wonder why there isn’t a novel that explores our internet and online psyche more closely than a few mention of messaging and chats as a contemporary mean of communication? With Virtual Love, I have finally found the one.

The book is broken into chapters with at least 4 or 5 (or more!) different voices describing the main character, Jeff Brennan, in a second person narrative. It was a little disconcerting to read the first chapter and not knowing whose voice it belongs to at first. As I persist, I began to detect Jeff Brennan’s grandfather’s voice (who has retired and taking care of his wife with dementia), a good friend called Jon (who missed Jeff’s company because now Jeff is spending more time with his girlfriend Marie), a colleague named Anne, Marie (Jeff Brennan’s girlfriend) and the real Jeff Brennan.

The first Jeff Brennan (or the fake Jeff) happens to carry the same name as Jeff Brennan the blogger who blogs about politics. Aspire to impress an American girl that he met, Marie, he pretends that he is “The” Jeff Brennan that Marie looks up to. What follows is a series of comic yet tragic incidents of Jeff trying to be the person behind the blog. In real life, the fake Jeff doesn’t talk about his blog nor share any of his thinking with Marie. Flattered of dating someone of substance for once, Marie finds excuses for fake Jeff for not letting her into his inner world, for replying her comments as if he doesn’t know her. Marie often persuaded fake Jeff to come out from behind his blog and acknowledge the celebrity status in person.

Ironically, the real Jeff was thinking of doing just the same thing……

I like the fact that every few chapters there is this little snippet of a twitter conversations. Reading the book feels like reading the most inner thoughts of fake Jeff’s friends and family. It is a feeling of voyeurism. It is a feeling of belonging and fraternity to this global online community where the good and the bad are created.

I read several reviews of this book and I acquiesce to the same affection to Jeff’s grandfather reminiscence of a world long gone. A world of written letters and telephone calls. A world where your eyes are not strained by looking at the computer for too long, a visit from the grandson and enjoy little pleasures of being in the garden smelling roses. He doesn’t understand why Jeff assumes so many identities and why Jeff spends so much time online. But it also brought a smile to my face when granddad learnt how to use Facebook.

I knew I read a book that I love when I can’t find the right word to describe adequately how I feel. The book made me think a lot about how we project ourselves online. Why is it that sitting behind the computer screen we are more honest about our thoughts but then had nothing to say when we are face to face? Have we replaced face to face time with online conversations? The point is social networking, Internet, chats, computer, being online is all just a tool not a replacement of a real life. They are suppose to enhance our lives, not takeover it. I think I am fortunate to be in a generation that straddles between the world before Internet and the world after. So I can step away and assess the pros and cons of the two worlds.

If we live more in the real life and ignore the virtual life, we would miss the opportunity for enrichment and the far reaching distance a thought can travel. If we live more in the virtual and ignore the real life, we run the risk of losing touch with our reality and often can turn to be a person incapable of meaningful interaction and effective functioning in the real world.

Of all the highlights that I marked, I thought this one really kept me thinking…. is this the future of blogging?

The new thing is micro-blogging, the world summed up in 140 characters or less. people don’t want to read real arguments. They don’t have time for well-constructed thoughts, or for sentences polished to a sheen. They want the intellectual equivalent of a Happy Meal. Blogs like mine, nutritious but sometimes a little stodgy, are losing favour.

and I like this heartbreaking quote from grand dad:

Whenever I questioned something from your world, I was being old-fashioned and irrelevant. You, on the other hand, could disparage my clock or my typewriter with impunity. I seem to have been born at a wrong time. In my youth I had to respect my elders, and now that I’m old I must defer to the young. – Granddad.

The ending is a little surreal to me. There is a loss but the one who experienced it is philosophical about it. In fact, liberated by it. I wonder if I’ll ever do the same. The cast of characters all have their longings and insecurities and what happens online only amplifies what already manifested in their real lives.

I came into this book with very little and expectation and I wasn’t expected to be blown away by so many provoking ideas that make me reflect about my blog, the online scene and social networking with a new pair of eyes. But it did.

Highly recommended. A book worth re-reading and I thought should be promoted mainstream and promoted more widely. I very rarely do a sale pitch on my blog but I am going to encourage you to read it, if you haven’t you can get a copy for £0.99 at Amazon.co.uk now.

Rating: four and a half stars

I thank Andrew Blackman for sending this to me. It has been a treat.

I have a few questions of my own about online vs real life and watch this space as Andrew Blackman himself will be here to answer some of my questions; including one that I will be asking: “Is it possible that our blogs could be hijacked?”

Ebook. Publisher: Legend Press March 2013. Printed Length: 256 pages; Setting: London, UK. Source: Andrew BlackmanFinished reading on: 21 May 2013, Tuesday.

Other views:

Delia@Postcard from Asia: It is a little bit disconcerting to read a book in which social media platforms play such a major role. It almost feels like they are characters themselves, keeping the humans hooked with the invisible threads of addiction, playing on their insecurities.

VishyA Virtual Love’ is an interesting take on today’s world in which online identities of people sometimes submerge their offline ones. I enjoyed reading it. I can’t wait to find out what themes Andrew Blackman will explore in his next book.

Andrew blackman

Read interviews to get to know Andrew Blackman and motivation behind the book.

Workshyfop

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About the writer:

Andrew Blackman is the author of the novel On the Holloway Road (Legend Press, 2009), which won the Luke Bitmead Writer’s Bursary and was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. His second novel, A Virtual Love, (Legend Press, 2013) deals with identity in the age of social networking.

Andrew has lived in London, Barbados and New York. His work has been published in Monthly Review, the Cincinnati Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Seattle Times.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Virtual Love by Andrew Blackman

  1. Nice review, Jo! Glad to know that you liked the book. I liked very much your comment that you know you love a book when you can’t find the right word to describe how you feel about it. It is a beautifully put thought. I also liked what you said about being fortunate to be part of the generation which straddles the BI (Before Internet) and AI (After Internet) worlds. I am fortunate too. I sometimes miss letters and packages by mail. I have a friend to whom I occasionally write letters and my friend replies back with a letter of her own. But those are the only letters I write these days. The email was a powerful tool when it came out because it was instantaneous, but now the heart yearns for the old-fashioned letter. I liked both the passages you have quoted, but my favourite was the one by granddad – he is my favourite character from the book. Thanks for this wonderful review. And thanks for the link.

    Posted by Vishy | May 31, 2013, 10:40 am
    • Vishy,
      No problem Vishy. I am amazed you still write paper letter. I think you should keep that tradition alive! :)
      Everyone loves packages. I am happy that now we order online so that our old faithful postmen in England still keep their jobs in Royal Mail.

      Posted by JoV | May 31, 2013, 5:27 pm
  2. Interesting review, I’d like to read the book. As you say – surprising there aren’t more novels wrestling with the topics – all of them thought provoking.

    Posted by alison41 | May 31, 2013, 5:12 pm
  3. Andrew has taken a bold step it seems in tackling internet love ,like you it suprise me more novelist haven’t tackled it before now ,sure this is just the first of many ,all the best stui

    Posted by winstonsdad | June 1, 2013, 11:10 am
  4. Sounds interesting…I am more interested in internet thing than the love thing tho.

    About the future blogging…I don’t know about others but I still prefer reading blogs than twitters…twitter is just a chat for me not a real thought.

    Posted by Novroz | June 2, 2013, 1:47 pm
  5. Interesting review. I liked the Granddad too, although I think I was slightly less sympathetic to his position. While I value all the things that he does, I also feel that progress is inevitable. Fundamentally, as humans, we don’t change dramatically – we still hurt and love, hope and fret – but the infrastructure around us is bound to evolve. The typewriter and telephone were, I’m sure, viewed differently by Arthur than they were by his elders. So too every piece of technology that significantly effects how we live our lives. It’s not the technology that’s the problem, it’s how we use it, and I think that wasn’t brought out strongly enough.

    Posted by Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) | June 20, 2013, 4:51 pm
    • Matthew,
      Thanks for dropping by. I don’t think as human we change fundamentally too. I agree it is not the technology that is the problem, but I thought Andrew Blackman brought out a strong message that the characters expressed and project themselves on to IT social media just as they would in real life.

      Posted by JoV | June 20, 2013, 10:19 pm
      • Always happy to stop by and read an intelligent post. I’m not completely sure I followed your last point, but I think you’re saying that we treat social media as an extension of our own personality, using or online profiles simply as another facet of ourselves. With reference to ‘A Virtual Love’, I’d be interested to know how you think Jeff’s and Marie’s manipulation of the online envrionment is described. Personally, I’m struggling to think back to too much, bar a a quick e-cleanup of her personality on Marie’s part.

        Posted by Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) | June 28, 2013, 12:51 pm
        • Matthew,
          Yes that is exactly what I mean. You said Andrew Blackman didn’t brought out the message that how we use technology is the problem, which I thought Andrew did. I thought the real Jeff and Marie didn’t set out to manipulate anyone through their comments or blogs but the fault of Marie is to set a false expectation of Jeff. The fake Jeff is the super manipulator in real life and online as he uses the online environment to put out different personas which his granddad didn’t quite understanding why he has to do that.

          Posted by JoV | June 28, 2013, 7:41 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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