The Idea of Love

The Idea of Love

by Louise Dean
     
 

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When a cluster of expatriate families converges on Provence, it seems as if sunshine, good wine, and an endless round of parties will make for a better life. Then Richard, a pharmaceutical salesman married to sexy Valérie, lands a plum assignment: introducing antidepressants into Africa, virgin territory for the drug industry and for the womanizing he has

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Overview

When a cluster of expatriate families converges on Provence, it seems as if sunshine, good wine, and an endless round of parties will make for a better life. Then Richard, a pharmaceutical salesman married to sexy Valérie, lands a plum assignment: introducing antidepressants into Africa, virgin territory for the drug industry and for the womanizing he has honed to a science. And idealistic Rachel finds herself Africa-bound too, in search of a little brother or sister for her daughter, Maud, and following some deeper longing she can’t seem to quell.

For both Richard and Rachel, the excursions will lead them into their own private heart of darkness, and will bring shock waves home to their little Eden, unsettling the very idea of love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this unrelentingly bleak tale, Dean (This Human Season) explores the lives of two couples and how precarious sanity can be. Richard, an English pharmaceutical representative selling psychotropic drugs in Africa, and his wife, Valérie, an unapologetic French hedonist, live in Provence next to Jeff, a brash American, and his English wife, Rachel, who is determined to save the world one child at a time. That hope is soundly defeated after trips to an African orphanage send Jeff into Valérie's arms, and Rachel's religious outbursts impede her cause. Rachel, though, isn't the only person affected by the betrayal: Richard slowly descends into a nervous breakdown and wonders if his wife ever loved him. Meanwhile, Richard and Valérie's teenage son appears to be slipping into madness. The puzzle pieces rearrange throughout the novel, sometimes falling into unexpected patterns the reader may not see coming. Dean's gift for descriptive prose is evident, and her edgy story will shake up traditional ideas about what exactly love is. It may also send depressed readers straight for a mood stabilizer. (July)

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Library Journal

Let the rusty (or is it bloody?) razor on the jacket cover, next to a cherubic Cupid, be fair warning to the reader. This is a lacerating account of middle-aged people looking for love in the worst possible ways. All the characters in Dean's latest novel (after This Human Season) are paralyzingly miserable in their collective failure to find love. Richard, a philandering traveling salesman who is English, lives in Provence with his high-maintenance wife, Valérie, and their son, Maxence, who may or may not be "right in the head." Nearby are American Jeff and his British wife, Rachel, who are so ill matched that it's a wonder they were able to produce little Maud. When Jeff and Valérie think they have falled in love, the two marriages end up colliding. Out of the wreckage of Richard's life—he loses his job, his family, and, for awhile, his mind—comes improbable salvation for him and Rachel and, possibly, the children. VERDICT Readers who devoured Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge will feel right at home with Dean's blindingly honest portrayal of characters so deeply flawed they practically need surgery.—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI


—Beth E. Andersen
Kirkus Reviews
Brittle, sometimes brutal comedy of sex and marriage shows British and American ex-pats spending some very unhappy years in a very unromanticized South of France. British pharmaceuticals salesman Richard lives "on the crossroads of rip-you-off-Riviera and rob-you-blind-Provence" with his French wife Valerie and 13-year-old son Maxence, who may or may not have serious psychological problems. Valerie's parents live next door, mostly on Richard's largesse. Drawn with few redeeming characteristics, Valerie is not only cold and lazy but seems to dislike Max. Unhappy Richard claims to yearn for an intimacy he can't find with either Valerie or the string of women he sleeps with while traveling for his job. Valerie and Richard socialize increasingly with their equally unhappily married neighbors, artistic but shallow American Jeff and British Rachel, a devout Christian. Gradually Valerie decides she's in love with Jeff, and Richard finds himself drawn to Rachel. Just as tensions heat up, Rachel pressures Jeff to travel with her to Africa to save orphans, realizes she has been duped-the "orphans" are not what they seem-and loses her faith. Meanwhile Richard goes to Africa to open a new territory for anti-depressants, has a moral epiphany and decides to quit his sleazy job. When Rachel learns of Valerie and Jeff's affair, she returns to England with daughter Maud, the one human being for whom Jeff genuinely cares. Richard wants to leave France too, but not without Max; Rachel demands custody, even though the boy hates his mother. Cut off from his family, without a job, Richard slides into a drunken nervous breakdown. Eventually he connects with Rachel, and they begin a long-distance love affairjust as Valerie and Jeff's affair begins to cool. Whether Richard can find happiness remains unclear, but his shiftless yet loving in-laws may point the way. Although neither the plot nor the characters quite jell, Dean (This Human Season, 2007) has a darkly optimistic, intellectually humanistic sensibility that recalls Iris Murdoch.
From the Publisher

"An acute, cynical wit…An unforgettable study of the dark side of the mind."--The Times (UK)

"A dark and thought-provoking tale of what happens when dreams crack at the seams… This dares to say what nobody else will about marriage. Written with bite and edge, it will force you to question if anyone is capable of being faithful …"--Eve (UK)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547393865
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
07/01/2009
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
File size:
246 KB

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Meet the Author

LOUISE DEAN lives in France. Becoming Strangers, long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize and winner of the Betty Trask Award, is her first book.

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