Review: Idol by Louise O’Neill

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Publisher: Bantam Press
Published: May 2022
Pages: 320


‘Follow your heart and speak your truth.’

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 Thoughts…

Having read and enjoyed the author’s previous book, After the Silence, last year, I was really interested in reading Idol, especially as conversations surrounding the role of influencers in society and so-called “cancel culture” seem highly timely.

Idol is, in some ways, an ambitious novel: tackling lots of themes such as social media culture, the idolisation of health gurus and other influencers, consent and public image in a post-#MeToo world, cancel culture, friendship, memory and recollections and more still, it really felt as though I needed some time to digest it before I could share my thoughts on this.

Sam is a complex character, projecting a public persona while feeling completely differently inside, her self-centredness concealing profound fragility and loneliness. I found it very hard to sympathise with her, but at the same time could really appreciate the nuance in her character which I really value when reading about an unlikeable and unreliable character. It felt a bit as if this subtlety was somewhat lost as the story progressed though, with Sam becoming more and more extreme nearing the end which, even though I still liked reading about her, made her much more black-and-white than morally grey.

The author’s writing here is brilliant, as always. I was completely captured by the story being told and, even though at times I was annoyed with the characters or felt like the plot was stagnating a bit, the way the book was written kept me turning the pages, eager to know more. The underlying critique of modern society, and social media/influencer culture especially, was very on point, sparking a lot of additional questions, thoughts and reflections for me.

There were a few things that didn’t quite work for me though. While I appreciated the critique, at times it felt like there was almost too much going on with a multitude of themes being raised at the same time without having the time or the space to delve deep into any single one. I can see how they were all linked together, but I couldn’t help but feel that this resulted in a superficial overview, ticking off a multitude of themes, but lacking deeper substance.

The story is pretty much centred around Sam herself and, even though I can see how this would fit with her selfishness and self-centredness, it was disappointing to see all the other characters coming across as rather flat. Lisa, Sam’s childhood friend, in particular mostly lacked substance, becoming almost instantly forgettable. The ending was also rather underwhelming, and I was especially unimpressed by the final scene.

Overall, Idol was a pleasant and gripping read though, even though I was probably expecting more from it than it could deliver. With its twisty nature and engrossing style, it would make a great beach read!

CW: this book contains mentions of sexual assault, eating disorders, addiction and toxic relationships.

Rating: 3.5/5

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