On Goodreads the novel “The Idea of You” by Robinne Lee comes with mixed reviews, most of them good but also a few scathing negative ones. What can I say? I had a wonderful time reading it and I did not expect this story to stay with me the way it did. I expected an interesting, slightly unique, but still mostly easy-going romance, with the typical “will they? / won’t they?” and typical tropes of roadblocks but still leading up to a happily ever after. And in parts it is exactly that and in so many parts it so very much isn’t.
The premise is easily explained: Solene is a 39 year olds divorcee in LA, who takes her teenage daughter to a meet & greet with the boyband August Moon, where she meets 20 years old Hayes Campbell, the leading male band member. The attraction is instant and then a flirt turns into one-night-stand turns into a fling turns into a secret affair turns into a public relationship turns into….
Unrealistic premise? A little bit maybe, but I allow that in a novel more often than not. One thing that made me roll my eyes a bit and kept me from giving this five stars was that this attraction and romance could only work, because both Solene and Hayes were not the typical regular American middleclass mum or boy in a boyband, but more sophisticated. Solene’s parents are French professors at ivy league colleges, she runs a high-class art gallery in LA, jet-sets to various art fairs and events all over the world. Hayes and all the other boys in the band come from a rather posh background, public school, cultured, bound for Oxford or Cambridge and all that. Sometimes it all felt a bit too posh, the places they meet, the events they go to, the world they move in.
Another aspect that turned me off a tiny bit was that towards the end there was a bit much of complaining about sexism and misogyny and how women still have it harder in so many aspects of life. I agree and I get it, but I didn’t need it shoved down my throat as much as it felt like in last half or so of this story.
Apart from all of that though? OMG, this story broke my heart into tiny little pieces. Because spoiler alert: Of course there wasn’t a happily ever after. There never could have been as much as I’d rooted for them as both characters grew on me quickly. I rooted for Solene to follow through on the mutual attraction, because no-one would bat an eyelash if the gender roles were reversed and it were a 40 year old man hooking up with someone like Posh Spice. In the beginning even I caught myself thinking for millisecond “Is this weird? Does that feel icky?”. Deep-rooted internal misogyny at play here. They were two consenting adults. That’s all that matters.
I loved that at the heart of the underlying and ongoing conflict wasn’t solely the age difference, but the fact, that a relationship between a guy in a super-successful (boy)band with fans camping outside the hotel and millions of followers on social media and a woman who is not part of the entertainment industry (art gallery or not) is doomed to fail. These kind of pop and rock stars lead such a different life and to me the story excels at portraying that realistically. I’m old enough to have witnessed the public and media frenzy about bands in the past decades. The current Robbie Williams documentary on Netflix also gave me some idea of that that life is like.
Here it was the paparazzi capturing the secret relationship after all, the unwanted attention Solene receives once the story gets out. The hate mail from rabid fans, the death threats. But also the bullying Isabelle, the teenage daughter has to endure once the story breaks, which is a big part of why Solene ends the relationship. There is one moment towards the end where the age difference comes into play quite starkly, when Solene encounters a crying underaged girl in the hotel hallway in the middle of the night. The girl had lied about her age to hook up with one of the other band members. Solene gets into full mother-mode to help the girl, while Hayes only worries about possible implication for the band and himself if this comes out. And both sides are equally valid from their respective points of view and where they both are in their lives at that time. And in the end that was the clincher: Hayes – as much as he was in love with Solene – still had so much to learn and to grow to be able to become the man he could be.
I will re-read parts of this story tonight. That’s how much my mind is still reeling with it. Oh and the fact that I was fantasizing about what I would have loved to see happen after. Not in a happy-end for them together, but a happy-end for either of them a decade later and both of them acknowledging what lead them to this. My mind was spinning with picturing elaborate scenarios to the extent that I decided to not just keep daydreaming about it, but trying to write it down. Fanfic for a novel? Never done that before, but that won’t stop me. Wish me luck…