You could be forgiven for thinking when picking up this book that it is going to be a very romantic read embellished with hearts and flowers along the way. The image of Cupid on the front cover along with references to Valentines day would lead you to this conclusion as well as the title - The Idea of Love. However, that's not what this novel is about at all and the author, Louise Dean, presents a very different idea of love indeed.
I have to admit that when I started reading this book, I did not think I was going to enjoy it very much. All of the main characters appeared self-centred, shallow and extremely unsympathetic and I could not imagine that I was going to care very much about what happened. Yet, as I continued to read, I was somehow drawn towards these intriguing characters and I found that I wanted to read more. Therefore it was worth persevering with this novel as by the end it was an excellent absorbing read.
The story centres around Richard and Valerie, a couple living in Provence who might have loved each other once but now don't even seem to like each other very much. She is extremely self absorbed and he is a philanderer particularly when he travels to Africa as a pharmaceutical salesman. They somehow manage to co-exist with their only middle ground being frequent drinking binges. Their neighbours Jeff and Rachel appear just as dysfunctional, particularly when she find God to love instead of her husband. It is not surprising then, that as the novel progresses, we witness the breakdown in their relationships and the emotional fallout that follows. This is particularly sad because there are two children, Max and Maud, who suffer greatly for their parents' failings. However, it is through Max that towards the end we discover that the parents do have some redeeming features as they sacrifice their personal needs and desires in order to support him.
This novel is not an easy read but it is worthwhile. It looks at the very worst and the very best in people and it does make you question why some people might stay together in the name of love. The style of the book is also sometimes tricky moving between the past and present somewhat randomly. I sometimes had to go back and reread pages just to make sure that I had understood where I was in the story. Once I had got used to Louise Dean's style though, I found that it helped to contribute to the overall impression I got of the haphazard, chaotic lives of the people involved.
This was ultimately a very moving read. Although the characters were not very likeable you could not help but feel for them as they were all living very sad lives in which they were apparently trapped. Even when they thought they had found true love, more likely than not they were mistaken. There was also a theme of mental instability and depression running through the novel. We know that Richard sells tablets to combat depression to developing countries, but as his life worsens he ends up taking the very same tablets himself though. Saddest though, is Max, whose behaviour becomes more and more unstable but it is really a cry for help. However, it is this cry for help that finally provides the catalyst needed for the others to put someone else before themselves and it is these actions which leave the reader feeling somewhat uplifted and thinking that there maybe is hope for all of the characters involved.
This is certainly a book that makes you think and even examine your own relationships. For these very reasons though, I would not recommend it if you were feeling slightly low or vulnerable.It is though a very absorbing read and quite unlike anything else I have read recently.
This review previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk