So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.
When Leah Oliphant-Brotheridge and her adopted sister Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-Levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.
Ruth Oliphant-Brotheridge, mother of the girls, successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? And can Ruth find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn't want to be found?
Viral by Helen Fitzgerald is published on 4 February 2016 by Faber and Faber.
So, Viral is the book with that opening line. The line that the publishers wanted the author to change. The line that will be the deciding factor when the big supermarkets look at it, and think about stocking it on their shelves. The line is a shocker, there is no doubt of that, but it's also an extremely good hook, it's also relevant, and it's also actually not that offensive at all. Compare it to the content of best-selling novels such as Fifty Shades, or to stuff that goes on in computer games, and it's actually quite tame.
But, the line is a conversation piece, and yes, I admit it is the reason why I wanted to read Viral. I wanted to know what the rest of the story was like; the writing, the plot, the characters ... I wanted to know more about it than just the first line. I'm really glad that Helen Fitzgerald stuck to her guns, and continued with that first line, because by God, the other lines in this story are excellent. This is a book that will send shivers down your spine, it's not frightening in the usual sense, but it's bloody scary when you realise that this really could happen to anyone.
Su and Leah, sisters, eighteen years old, just finished their A Levels, going to Magaluf to party. Su and Leah don't really get along. Su wants to love Leah, but Leah is determined to be the biggest bitch possible. Su was adopted as a baby, from North Korea, and Leah came along soon afterwards - the miracle baby; her parent's natural child, the one that they thought would never be born.
Su is bright, studious, wants to be a doctor. Leah is bubbly, popular, rebellious and determined to make Su's life a misery. However, the deal is that if Leah wants to go to Magaluf, then Su has to go too. Their mother Ruth has made that clear from the outset, Su will go, even though she really would prefer to stay at home, and Leah will put up with it.
By the end of the holiday, one of the girls is the star of an online video, watched by thousands, shared by thousands. No, not Leah, the party girl, but quiet, virginal Su. Suddenly she's known everywhere, but not for something to brag about, no the camera captured her sucking twelve cocks in Magaluf, in exchange for one sweet, sickly orange alcoholic drink. Su's life changes, forever.
The ease in which the video goes viral is crazy, it takes no time at all. The impact on Su and her family is absolutely massive, and whilst the video itself is the catalyst, the fallout has obviously been brewing for a long time.
Helen Fitzgerald gets under the skin of her characters and exposes their inner weaknesses so very well. Ruth, the girls mother is one hell of a creation, she's intelligent and well-respected but there is a hidden, dark side to her that is terrifying to observe. Her ruthlessness and determination is quite astounding and her responsive actions give so much away about this family and its dynamics.
Viral is a roller coaster of a ride. It's a portrait of a family, it's a documentary about the power of social media and it's blisteringly good. Revenge and tragedy, self-discovery, bravado and vulnerabilities, all of these and so much more. I have huge respect for Helen Fitzgerald's writing.
My thanks to Sophie from Faber who sent my copy for review.
Helen Fitzgerald is the best selling author of Dead Lovely (2007) and nine other adult and young adult thrillers, including My Last Confession (2009), The Donor (2011) and most recently The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.
Helen has worked as a criminal justice social worker for over ten years.
She is one of thirteen children and grew up in Victoria, Australia.
She now lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children.
For more information about Helen Fitzgerald, check out her website helenfitzgerald.wordpress.com
Follow her on Twitter @FitzHelen