Being published was a “dream come true” for Diana Reid.
“You know when you’re a kid so excited for Christmas Day that you wake up really early?” she says. “For a month after finding out I was published, I woke up abnormally early every day because I was so excited to live my life.”
The Sydney author was just 24 when she started writing in 2020, as part of a lockdown project. She didn’t think anything would come of it – but it became her critically acclaimed debut album, Love & Virtue.
This 2021 novel, set on a prestigious Sydney campus, tapped into the zeitgeist from all sides: exploring feminism, female friendship, privilege, rape culture and consent. It became a bestseller, winning the ABIA Book of the Year award, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelist and a Bookseller’s Choice fiction award – and endorsements from Helen Garner, Hannah Kent and Annabel Crabb.
“It was definitely something I always wanted to do in a very dreamy world, I loved reading and thought it would be a list of things to try, [but] without this confinement, I know that I would not have done it, ”she says. “I felt there was freedom to fail, because I was like, ‘If I write a book and nothing happens, it won’t make a difference because no one else is doing anything. in any event. “”
Reid has since been able to leave her graduate job at a law firm for the coveted position of full-time writer – and just 12 months after her debut, she is already posting a follow-up. Released this month, Seeing Other People is a tongue-in-cheek examination of two sisters in their early twenties and their respective, sometimes intoxicating, attraction to the same woman; Told from all three angles, it’s a captivating and tense read.
Underpinned by Reid’s take on the difference between infatuation and love, the story is delivered with a sharp assessment of his generation, with characters both performative in the way they act and deeply aware of the ethics. The younger sister, Charlie, an actor, fantasizes about the social currency of dating Helen, a director who commands admiration from every room she walks into. While older sister, Eleanor – fresh from a breakup with the indefinable Mark – is gripped by the intensity of her feelings and a growing fear of what it would be like if she acted on them.
Seeing Other People is similar in tone and style to Love & Virtue (“I wanted people to feel like they were reading a Diana Reid book,” she says): a reflective novel with a moral dilemma at its core. heart. But the characters look like older, more evolved versions of the college students from his campus romance. Reid says her upbringing (she went to the elite Ascham School in Sydney’s east, before studying law and philosophy at the University of Sydney) gave her permission and confidence in everything. questioning — an “exhausting but useful practice” that sees her begin the writing process with a moral question she’d like to explore.
It is this emotionally analytical undertone of her work – as experienced by the young, erudite, mostly white, middle-class characters – that has drawn many comparisons to Sally Rooney, who Reid says was “extremely influential”.
“I guess the more politically aware [response] it’s that it’s reductive to equate women because they’re the same age and demographic – but I love Sally Rooney so much I don’t care; I find that really flattering,” she says. “I read Conversations with Friends in 2019, the year before I wrote Love & Virtue. This [was] the first book I had read that I felt really reflected my social world… the first time I realized that lives like mine deserved literary rendering, which sounds like a crazy thing to say because , as you say, I’m white and university educated, so I don’t hesitate at all to be represented.
“I think it’s more because it’s been treated so seriously as a piece of literature. I’m not naive that my book sold so much better because Normal People had been so successful, and so the publishers saw “a campus novel written by a young woman – we know it sells “.
Of the similarities between characters in her own novels, Reid says, “I’m always interested in the dynamics of female relationships, where it’s a gray area between whether you want to be like someone or want to be with them. In Love & Virtue, the main character is obsessed with this figure of Eve, but because they’re in a heteronormative environment, she ultimately channels her into this competition for male attention instead. What’s this [philosopher] Adrienne Rich calls heterosexuality compulsory.
“I guess I wasn’t done with that dynamic and I wanted to explore it a bit more. In Seeing Other People, it’s more queer, more diverse, and they’re in that artistic environment, so that kind of Obsession is channeled more into a romance rather than this kind of toxic competition.
The queer-centering of the stories was also a byproduct of another decision: to make the main characters sisters, which Reid says can be a more tense and intense bond than that between siblings. She won’t comment on whether these characters’ sexuality comes from a place of experience; she hopes the merit of the book is taken on its own terms.
“I was so aware of the really powerful queer literature that looks [queerness] context of oppression, which is really real and valid,” she says. But her own story consciously abstains from politics, normalizing homosexuality to the point that a sister’s move from a straight relationship to a gay relationship, for example, is barely commented on by those around her. “What I wanted was to tell a love story, where love was the subject, and moral dilemmas were the subject, and where homosexuality was an aspect of the story but not the subject of the ‘story.”