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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Hodgson

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee

Robinne Lee’s The Idea of You was originally published in 2017 and it has been had picking up speed since then, right up to a recent release of a UK edition this summer. The growth of the book may have been a slow burn, but the story is anything but.

The plot is told from the point of view of Solène Marchand, an almost 40 year old divorced mother of a 12 year old girl. Solène is chic, sophisticated and co-owns her own modern art gallery in Los Angeles. She takes her daughter, Isabelle, and her friends to Vegas for the weekend where they are attending the concert and meet and greet with one of the biggest boybands in the world: August Moon. At the Meet and Greet, Solène catches the attention of Hayes Campbell. Hayes is attractive and charming. He also happens to be 20 years old and one of the members of August Moon. What happens next is an incredibly hot and steamy whirlwind of a love affair that will absolutely keep you hooked until the very last page.

I do try and keep spoiler free in my posts generally, but I’ll add a word of warning here that I am going to talk about different plot points throughout this, including the ending, as I don’t think I can quite get out my thoughts and feelings without it on this occasion!

There are multiple levels you can read this book on, and that is one of the reasons why I adored it so much. If you’re just here for the smut, hey, I don’t blame you! It’s well written and the easy, flirty banter between Solène and Hayes just smoulders its way through the page. Hayes is basically a dream come true as a romance novel lead and is probably who I’ll use as a benchmark for all future characters in the genre!

But, edible as Hayes is, I don’t personally think of this as a novel about his and Solène’s romance: I think of this as Solène’s story, and her relationship with Hayes is just part of that wider narrative.

I adore Solène as a protagonist. She is a divorced woman approaching 40 and hasn’t been with anyone romantically since her marriage broke down. Whilst some may deem her relationship with Hayes as a mid-life crisis, I think it’s more a journey of rediscovery for her. She talks about her past partners, her time with her husband, and is very clear with Hayes what she does and doesn’t want from him. She isn’t bored or lonely; in fact, she’s far from it. She has a successful business in her art gallery and art is a lifelong passion for her and one which forms part of her eventual divorce. At one point, her ex-husband says to her that he’s sorry he and their family weren’t enough for her, and isn’t that just the painful truth of the expectations society puts on a woman? The expectation that her role as wife and mother should be enough to fulfil her. Solène is wonderful in that she doesn’t allow these things to wholly define her. Instead, she pursues those passions that made her happy long before those other roles ever existed for her. Her ex-husband tries to vilify her for it; I applaud her.

When she first starts seeing Hayes, a lot of her worries, and those of people around her, are around how it will impact her daughter, who has posters of August Moon adorning the walls of her bedroom. As a parent, Solène is expected to always put her daughter’s needs above her own. Her former husband doesn’t though which is evident right from the start when he asks Solène to take the girls on the trip to Vegas to the meet and greet because something has come up for him. In fact, Solène’s plans are expected to go right out of the window at that point as if they are lesser than his. Lee has crafted this layered exploration of what it means to be a woman at a certain time in her life beautifully and it adds an emotional depth to the romance for me that I didn’t necessarily expect to find.

Solène does live a reasonably privileged life already. She has a beautiful house in LA, a job which takes her around the world and an incredible wardrobe to boot. She is incredibly chic and sophisticated. I look down at my worn jeans and the Disney hoodie I have on whilst I write this and mourn slightly the fact that I am just never going to be as cultured as her. Damn. Despite this though, the circus of Hayes’ celebrity is still a total culture shock to her. The levels of complication just to be able to go out for a drink somewhere are mindboggling. She glimpses the fandom cult around him from both sides, and it is truly frightening to her at times to see how invested the fans are in him when their relationship becomes public knowledge. The allure of the image of celebrities and fame are addressed time and again here. It’s how the novel get its title: Hayes says that the fans don’t love him, more the idea of him. We all curate our online and public personas to varying degrees and this is just magnified for someone in the public eye. We might all daydream about what it would be like to be famous, but, once Solène is catapulted into that spotlight, she needs to decide whether that’s something she can live with for her daughter, her colleagues and, most importantly, herself.

The pacing of The Idea of You is fantastic. Each chapter jumps in time and place to different moments where Solène and Hayes are together. As the novel progresses, these jumps speed up and become more erratic. It feels like the novel grows in momentum, hurtling us towards the conclusion at dizzying speed. I won’t lie, the way it ends felt way too sudden and it was an absolute gut-punch when it did arrive. I think I’m still emotionally battered and bruised by it! Talking it over with a friend, she said she felt exactly like Hayes in those final chapters as it unfolded and I completely agree with that sentiment; it felt like this was being done to us, and no matter how much we didn’t want it to end it still did. As I said earlier in the post though, this is Solène’s story and she makes decisions which best suit her at that moment. My heart broke for Hayes, and for us as readers, but the strength Solène shows at that moment is commendable.

Would I have liked a different ending? Certainly. But then I’m a total dreamer and romantic at heart. Life, however, isn’t always about the happily ever after; it’s about the journey. Lee made a really brave choice by ending this novel the way she did, but it makes this wild ride of a story that much more realistic. This has been, without a doubt, one of my favourite reads of the year so far and I wholeheartedly recommend it.


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