Louise O’Neill shares an excerpt from her brand new novel
I have a sister and we are close in age; there’s only a year and nine months between us. And yet, often when we talk about our childhood, it’s as if we were raised in separate families.
We argue all the time – no, that doll was mine, not yours. Dylan was my baby name, not yours. I went to McDonalds for my birthday, not you.
It’s strange, I think, how the same life can be remembered so differently. In the years since 2016, as we tried to make sense of a “post-truth” world and “alternative facts”, this duality of experience has never seemed more relevant. It is in this spirit that I began to write my sixth novel. Idol is about Samantha Miller, a wildly successful wellness guru. She has created an empire: a lifestyle brand; millions of social media followers; invitations to speak anywhere in the world. His new book, Chaste, topped the charts. Determined to speak her truth, she writes an essay about a sexual experience she had as a teenager with her best friend at the time, Lisa.
The essay goes viral but then Lisa gets back in touch, saying she doesn’t remember it the same way. His memory of that night is much darker. It’s Sam’s word against Lisa’s – so who can tell the story? Who do we choose to believe? What “truth” is really a lie? I can’t wait for readers to meet Samantha Miller and decide for themselves…
Samantha watched the girls as they entered the party hall, tilting her head back to stare at the ornate vaulted ceiling with its oversized chandeliers dripping with silver and blue crystals. They were nudging each other in the ribs, their mouths hanging open, as if to say – Look at that! Can you believe it? His publisher had not wanted to rent this space for the launch of his book. They said it was a waste of money, money that could be used more “effectively” for marketing, subway posters, targeted ads on Instagram, and she just waited until they stopped. arguing, waving their Excel sheets and projected budgets like blanks. flags, tossing around for other cheaper venues, and when they ran out she smiled sweetly and said, “That must be the ballroom, I’m afraid.” My daughters deserve the best.
And look at them now, she thought, staring at the monitor screen from the wings as they unbuttoned their coats and shook their hair flattened by the cheap berets they hoped would make them look sophisticated, even French, slipping their New York tote bags under the red. , velor seats. They were young, in their early to mid-twenties, and pretty with their winged eyeliner and red lipstick. They were wearing heeled ankle boots from Forever 21 and ribbed dresses from Zara and they were mostly white, but that wasn’t her fault; as his manager always reminded him, that was just the demographics for this kind of event. Really, it had nothing to do with Sam; she had always fostered an inclusive atmosphere in her workshops, insisting that everyone was welcome, regardless of race, sexuality or gender identity. But in the end, it was these girls who had come to her – these nice white girls – and Sam knew it was her responsibility to help them like she wished someone had helped her when she was their age. . It had been over 20 years since she limped from Utah on that cramped night flight with nothing but the memories of all she had lost to sustain her, but despite all that she had crossed, she had refused to become a victim. She was determined to bring this city to its knees and make it her own. And watch it now. Look how far she had come.
“We’re about to hit a million views,” Jane, his manager, whispered in his ear. “You are a fucking genius.” Samantha raised a hand to cover Jane’s and she smiled in relief. She had been right then to trust her instincts, to say that a little controversy had never hurt the first week of sales, whatever her shy editor might have thought. It was as if she always told her daughters; if you follow the truth of your heart, you will never be misled.
The stage was pitch black except for the screen against the back wall, emblazoned with the word CHASTE in giant neon letters. “Is that a bit too much?” she had asked Jane earlier, when she had seen the set for the first time. She was always like that before a big event, anxious, restless, wanting to make sure everything was perfect. “If it’s good enough for Beyoncé…” her manager shrugged. “And the girls will love it, it’s very grammable.” A spotlight turned on now, dust particles dancing in its heat, and there was a ripple of energy moving through the audience, like a wave crashing onto the stage and lapping over her toes. Sam pressed her fingertips to her ears to block out the excited mumbles, the half-muffled laughter, the rustle of fitted skirts and settled seats, until all she heard was a faint echo of her own breathing. She slows him down, visualizing lightning passing through her, turning her into holy flames. She would set this place on fire and burn every living person here; they would be reborn once she was done with them. “Happy New Year! Welcome to the ballroom for this very special event!” A deep, strong male voice rang through his bones. “Samantha Miller,” he said over the loudspeaker, waiting for the applause before continuing.”Samantha Miller is a New York Times bestselling author who travels the world as a motivational speaker. Her early memoir, Voluntary silence, was published by Glass House Publishing in 2011. After Oprah called it her book of the year, it sold over 10 million copies in the United States alone,” said the man. “She set up shakthi, a spiritually oriented lifestyle brand, in 2013, and the website’s podcast consistently tops the iTunes charts. His four-part documentary series, Shakti Hi, premiered on Netflix last year. We are delighted to have her here tonight to celebrate the launch of her fourth book, Chaste.”
He could barely be heard above the screaming crowd now, Sam’s chants! Sami! Sami! stronger and stronger. She would never tire of that – her daughters, calling her name. It was all Sam would need to be happy.
“This is Samantha Miller!” The cheers were deafening as she took the stage, the cream silk jumpsuit clinging to her five-foot frame, her buttery blonde hair curled to fall over one eye. It had taken the best make-up artist and hairstylist in town two hours to put this together – “I want to look sheer,” she told them, “it’s gotta be on brand for the new book” – but now that she was here, Samantha had forgotten all that; style choices, mood boards, look books. She only cared about her daughters. She stretched her arms out to the side, embracing everything they threw at her – their appreciation, their love, even their despair. She would take everything and offer it to the Universe on their behalf.
“Welcome, my loves,” she said, waving the crowd to their seats. They did so immediately, staring at her with rapt attention. “Thank you for coming on such a cold evening,” she said, looking at each girl as if she had been waiting there just for them to arrive. “I’m glad you’re here tonight, every one of you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be because, as we know, the Universe doesn’t deal with “accidents”. It was meant to be. I want you to surrender to this knowledge. Feel the peace that this surrender brings you. Let it fill your soul. Samantha put a hand over her heart, asking the crowd to do the same. “I breathe love,” she said, and the girls repeated it as one. “I exhale the fear,” she said, smiling when they repeated to her in chorus. “It’s true,” she said. “That’s right. I can feel the release of energy in this room and goodness, it’s amazing. Can you feel it, my loves? Can you feel your own power? The girls nodded, whispering yes , yes, I can. There was a sort of release, their shoulders dropping, the knot that had caught in their chests unraveling. Such was the power of Samantha Miller. She would save them from their pain, from their trauma, of their difficult childhoods. The strained relationships with their parents – the fathers who ignored them because they wanted sons, not daughters, and the mothers who asked if they were “sure” they wanted that second serving of mashed potatoes. potatoes – “carbs are so fattening, honey” – the men who fucked them and never texted again, the friends who said shit from the mouth side and the other friends who did theirs repeated happily. It was a saturated market – so many broken girls with the money to spend – and there were plenty of beautiful white women, selling crystal-encrusted and wellness yoga mats and $50 meditation candles, but none of them could do what Samantha Miller could do. . Authenticity was an overused word these days, but the truth was Sam had it. She had been there; she had hit rock bottom they all feared. She understood their desperation but more importantly, she understood the fury that lay beneath their smiles. She knew there was nothing more powerful than a woman finally allowed to scream.
- Idol by Louise O’Neill is published by Transworld. Louise will read from Idolat the West Cork Literary Festival on Sunday July 10. The West Cork Literary Festival takes place in and around Bantry town from July 8-15. See westcorkliteraryfestival.ie.