In her upcoming novel Virgin, Radhika Sanghani manages to capture all of the awkwardness, humor, self-consciousness, and angst that go hand-in-hand with embarking on a modern sexual relationship, and how intimidating that is when you’re still a virgin. Confronting stereotypes and social stigmas, calling them out for the hollow constructs they are, Sanghani’s novel is brutally honest and real in its presentation, making it enjoyable and cringingly relatable.
Ellie is twenty-one years old. She’s in her last year of school at a university in London. And she’s glaringly aware of the fact that she is (not by choice) still a virgin. Determined to change that last fact before she graduates, Ellie consults everything and everyone from her closest friends to the internet and porn as she prepares herself, physically, mentally, and emotionally for losing her virginity (mostly physically). Confronting the embarrassments of her past and the labels that get thrown around when it comes to both male and female sexuality, Ellie’s adventures are thoroughly entertaining.
This is a novel that will be best enjoyed by its target audience of young women ranging from late teens/early twenties to early thirties. Given its frequently graphic nature and language content, I’m not sure how much I’d recommend it for teens but there are many aspects that I’m sure they would find relatable and maybe a few that would help them to have healthier relationships with themselves. The messages of the novel are so basic and obvious that they border on cliché, but at the same time, they’re the kinds of messages that can have a huge positive impact (especially on young women) with early and repeated exposure.
Some men might find it entertaining to see some of the ways women obsess over their bodies and how they’ll be perceived by the opposite sex, or they’ll enjoy the awkward sex-capades of the heroine; but I don’t know how much they’ll relate to other aspects of it that speak more to the female experience and the way that labels (like “slut” or “prude” or “virgin”) remain such double-edged swords. I think it would be a good idea for men to read something like Virgin where they’re presented with a female perspective on sexuality (and one that is a little more light-hearted while doing so), but I’m not sure how many actually will.
The plot isn’t exactly original and some of the characters could do with a little more rounding, but I found being in Ellie’s head agreeable; she doesn’t get too whiney or tedious. The narrative does focus pretty narrowly on her self-appointed mission. More layers to the plot wouldn’t have hurt but that’s why it’s relegated to the realm of women’s fiction and not more serious literature; at the same time, the novel’s narrow focus didn’t make it any less amusing. It’s the kind of book that makes a quick beach or vacation read. Or, in my case, it was the perfect palate cleanser after reading something that I found thoroughly disappointing and disturbing (not something I chose to review; I wouldn’t put that on anyone).
Virgin by Radhika Sanghani will be available for purchase August 5, 2014.