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 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.
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 Blackman. Finished reading on: 21 May 2013, Tuesday.
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.
Vishy: A 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.
Read interviews to get to know Andrew Blackman and motivation behind the book.
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.