‘Follow your heart and speak your truth.’
[ About the Book ]
For Samantha Miller’s young fans – her ‘girls’ – she’s everything they want to be. She’s an oracle, telling them how to live their lives, how to be happy, how to find and honour their ‘truth’.
And her career is booming: she’s just hit three million followers, her new book Chaste has gone straight to the top of the bestseller lists and she’s appearing at sell-out events.
Determined to speak her truth and bare all to her adoring fans, she’s written an essay about her sexual awakening as a teenager, with her female best friend, Lisa. She’s never told a soul but now she’s telling the world. The essay goes viral.
But then – years since they last spoke – Lisa gets in touch to say that she doesn’t remember it that way at all. Her memory of that night is far darker. It’s Sam’s word against Lisa’s – so who gets to tell the story? Whose ‘truth’ is really a lie?
‘You put yourself on that pedestal, Samantha. You only have yourself to blame.’
[ My Review ]
IDOL by Louise O’ Neill published with Bantam Press May 12th and is described as ‘riveting, compulsive and bold…interrogates our relationship with our heroes and explores the world of online influencers, asking how well we can ever really know those whose carefully curated profiles we follow online. And it asks us to consider how two memories of the same event can differ, and how effortlessly we choose which stories to believe.‘
IDOL is the story of Samantha Miller, an influencer, a lifestyle guru who has built up a huge number of fans over a career that has reached stratospheric levels. Samantha Miller has it all. She has dealt with her own struggles and has reformed herself as this person that young women look up to and aspire to. Following the launch of her latest book Chaste, Samantha is pulled to one side by her manager in crisis mode. An email has arrived that changes everything.
Before the launch of Chaste, Samantha had an essay published that recounted her sexual experience with her teenage best friend, Lisa. Samantha’s brand thrives on her apparent honesty and in using this revelation, Samantha felt that it would bring comfort and inspire other young women to be true to themselves. Lisa’s name isn’t mentioned in the essay but when it is brought to her attention, she is horrified and in a wine-fuelled rage sends off an email to Samantha claiming a different version of events that evening. The ripples from this email are just the beginning as Samantha’s life starts to implode. Over the years she has worked hard on forging a path, one of enlightenment and authenticity. She has never shied away from publicly acknowledging her own addictions and the struggles she faced in her own life using her past as way of connecting with others who are challenged by life. But has Samantha always been honest? Is her version of events real? With Lisa’s accusations Samantha has to face a few truths and go back home to where it all began.
As the trial by social media raises its ugly head, the toxicity starts to spread and Samantha sees the empire she has worked so hard to establish slowly begin to crumble. Her version of events is debated and dissected on socials with the keyboard warriors questioning her actions and taking a very harsh view on her life-choices. In order to save her reputation Samantha tries to remember events in her teenage years as she saw them but leaves the reader questioning her reliability and her memory of that time. Using flashbacks, her friendship with Lisa is portrayed through Samantha’s eyes with a sense of foreboding, a sense that something is amiss. Who is telling the truth? What really happened that night?
Unfortunately none of the main characters appealed to me in any way and I did find their behaviour frustrating and, at times, repetitive. I do think that the novel could have been cut back a little as I started to glaze over as I read certain chapters. The concept is solid, the portrayal of Samantha Miller is well-depicted but I just didn’t connect with any individual. I had no empathy for any one person, which was unexpected as I thought I’d be rooting for either Lisa or Samantha. But as women in their late thirties, I thought some of their actions were unconvincing and petty, leaving me unsure as to what demographic this book is written for.
IDOL analyses our relationship with social media while also highlighting the toxic nature of the cancel culture. The power of the influencer is global in its reach, almost evangelical in its ability to attract followers, all looking to fill a gap in their lives. Louise O’ Neill questions how we all have become part of this phenomena and how entangled we have become in the lives of others. The climb to the top can be meteoric with a spectacular payback but the fall, if and when it comes, can be brutal and swift. Challenging our perception of the sparkle and the glamour of these folk who get placed on a high pedestal, these ordinary people who become idolised by the masses, IDOL puts the influencer under the microscope and asks a question about truth and self.
Overall IDOL is a very topical novel. An interesting book club choice it would definitely initiate discussions on the culture wars and our relationship with the influencer while also highlighting the complexity of those fraught teenage years.
[ Bio ]
Louise O’Neill grew up in Clonakilty, a small town in West Cork, Ireland. Her first novel, Only Ever Yours, was released in 2014 and won the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, the Eilís Dillon Award for a First Book and the Bookseller’s inaugural YA Book Prize. Her second novel, Asking For It, was published in September 2015 to widespread critical acclaim. It spent 52 consecutive weeks in the Irish top 10 bestseller list. Both novels have been optioned for screen.
Louise’s first novel for adults, Almost Love, was published in 2018, followed shortly by The Surface Breaks, her feminist re-imagining of The Little Mermaid. Her second novel for adults, After the Silence, was published in 2020 and was an instant bestseller in Ireland. It won Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards and has also been optioned for screen. Idol is her third adult novel. Louise contributes regularly to Irish TV and radio, and has a weekly column in the Irish Sunday Times.