cover image The Idea of Love

The Idea of Love

Louise Dean, . . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (318pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101385-2

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)