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A novel of Social Media culture set in USA

12th May 2022

Idol by Louise O’Neill, a novel of social media culture set in USA, in fictional Bennford and New York.

A novel of Social Media culture set in USA

Welcome to a novel featuring millennial chaos. Influencer Sam Miller has a terrific Social Media following – in the millions – and, together with her manager, she has carefully curated her image  She is into health and well-being. Her website Shakti, think Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. She actively encourages her followers to be open and honest about past issues and share how things are. In the spirit of her own advocacy, she writes about her own sexual awakening in her late teens.

However, her view of what happened back in 1999, when she was a teenager, is strongly challenged and in such a way that a public smear campaign starts to erupt that her followers start to abandon her. She heads back to Bennford, where she grew up, to challenge her best friend. Oh, what a complex web has been woven! Perceived truths from the turn of the century, when they were all teenagers, threaten now to engulf her public persona. It has to be sorted and to that end she is quite willing to manipulate history and friends.

Sam is a complex mix. She has struggled to overcome the damage caused at the hands of her parents, a refrain for her that is on repeat, and she will still rail at her mother for misdemeanours, both past and present. Sam goes on to reflect on her time when she suffered eating disorders and drug fuelled encounters and acted out her unhappiness. Basically, she is a mess, struggling to hold it together, and her sharply constructed and caring carapace hides untold emotional and psychological issues. She has a therapist, who is on call and will fit her in at the drop of a hat – but Sam still can’t get her head around the possibility that she herself had “.. been a problem, someone who had been pitied rather than envied..”

Her description of the specific encounter, which has led to the crisis in her life, that in turn has caused her so much derision and public harm, is set in stone in her own mind. She argues her point, stating that you can’t, she says, “hold someone responsible for what they do when they are drunk.” Well, er, yes, you can. Imagine what people could get away with if they were exonerated because they were drunk? And this is where, to my mind, the novel – called a ‘thriller’ which it really isn’t – falls a bit flat. The child-like voice of the central character is whiny and grating and it’s really rather tedious spending time in her presence, as she blasts through her past and comes face to face with the present. She can be such an abrasive and self-referring person, who essentially craves care and love, you can really feel that.

This novel is garnering a lot of positive reviews. It is certainly very well written. I just feel that Sam hadn’t been sufficiently fleshed out in a fully cogent and convincing way to carry the level of psychological damage she has experienced over her lifetime. I suspect the story is aimed at a specific demographic and I don’t fall into that category. Check out the other reviews and make your own mind up.

And you know what, the book cover really doesn’t – to my mind – reflect the content, I would anticipate something very different when choosing the novel as a reader, based on the cover and NOT somewhere where it snows a lot as it does in fictional Bennford! It’s misleading.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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