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Idol by Louise O’Neill: A thrilling, psychologically complex novel

Brilliantly constructed story keeps the reader guessing until the very last page

Idol
Author: Louise O’Neill
ISBN-13: 978-1787635333
Publisher: Bantam Press
Guideline Price: £14.99

Samantha Miller’s career seems to be at all-time high. Her books are bestsellers, her lifestyle brand and website Shakti is wildly popular, and she has a huge army of devoted female fans who look to her for guidance and inspiration. To celebrate the publication of her new book, Chaste, Samantha writes an essay about a transformative sexual experience she had as a teenager with her best friend Lisa. Sam believes she’s been open and honest about how meaningful this encounter was – until Lisa gets in touch to say that as far as she was concerned, the encounter was non-consensual.

Shocked and horrified on both a personal and professional level – the idea that she could have assaulted someone truly appals her, but she’s also very aware it would destroy her brand – Sam heads back to her home town for the first time in years to try and build bridges with Lisa. But as she confronts faces from her past, from her brittle mother to her high-school boyfriend, who is now married to Lisa, will the real truth about that night ever be revealed?

Anyone who has read Louise O’Neill’s previous work will be aware her ability to combine psychological complexity with a compulsively readable plot, and her new novel Idol is her best book yet. Idol is told, in the third person, from Samantha’s point of view, an approach that allows O’Neill to create one of the most effective and complex unreliable protagonists I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Throughout the novel, the charismatic Samantha manages to hold the reader’s sympathy – until the moments when she suddenly doesn’t.

The novel is brilliantly constructed, with O’Neill carefully revealing more and more details about Samantha and her world, all of which keep the reader wondering what it really means to speak your truth, and whether truly believing you’re a good person is enough to make you one. It would be a crime to spoil the plot of this book, which is one of the most tense, gripping novels I’ve read in the last year. But rest assured that O’Neill keeps the reader – and Samantha – in suspense right until the very last page.