Grazia Book Club: Louise O’Neill’s Idol

Who is telling the truth in this must-read thriller?

Grazia Book Club

by Maria Lally |

On 3 January 2022, the day this story begins, Samantha Miller is a Gwyneth-esque lifestyle author and influencer, who has almost 3m followers and the world at her feet. She’s built her million-dollar empire from revealing to her followers – ‘her girls’ – all about her struggles with addiction, eating disorders, her experience of rape, how she’s gone on to find health and happiness, and how ‘her girls’ can to. Then she is accused of sexual assault.

As her world begins to unravel, she flees her life on New York’s Upper West Side and heads for her suburban hometown and tracks down her high-school best friend – the one accusing her. An uncomfortable look at the world of online influencers follows, trial by social media, and how two people can remember an encounter in different ways, flitting back and forth between present day and 1999/2000.

‘I had been thinking about the topic of this book for a very long time,’ Louise tells Grazia. ‘Then I read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind Of Girl and it described a situation with her sister which caused a divisive reaction. 50% of people were appalled, while the other 50% weren't.

I was struck by how the same story can be interpreted in such widely different ways.’

For her previous book, Asking For It, which deals with rape culture, Louise spoke to survivors of sexual violence who told her that two people can be in the same room and what one person sees as the most traumatic experience of their life, the other sees differently. ‘They told me, “The other person just didn’t see it as assault.” And that was the crux of Idol,’ she says.

The book also delves into the world of wellness. Louise says, ‘I have been inside this community for the best part of two decades, but there were things I noted during the pandemic that got me thinking. Some of the so-called gurus I was following starting posting strange things about Covid conspiracy theories. Or I noticed they stayed very quiet about serious issues like George Floyd, or Roe V Wade. They wanted to be all things to all people, without coming down too hard on either side. With Samantha, she’s performing authenticity on social media without really being authentic at all. That interested me.

‘One of the essential questions in the book is, who gets to tell your story?’ says Louise. ‘There’s an imbalance of power because those with huge platforms have more power in which to tell a story.’ But then again, they also have further to fall.

Idol by Louise O'Neill is out now

Grazia Book Club Gives Its Verdict:

‘O'Neill has created a protagonist that keeps you engrossed right up to the last moments. Her portrayal of the ex-addict turned wellness guru, is captivating. Chloe

‘This is an in-depth examination of today’s influencers, from the highs to the depths of despair. We are given an intimate and raw glimpse into cancel culture, sexual assault, and childhood trauma.’ Aisha

‘Not only a reflection on how we can create our own reality, but also on the fact that the stories we tell ourselves can be at stark odds with the realities of other people.’ Jesse

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