I’m an avid Sophie Kinsella fan, although the problem here is too much of a good thing: ‘Shopaholic’ was an addictive series, and despite Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) and her various failures, I always used to come out feeling like she deserved to be where the final chapters placed her, whether it was married or expecting a baby or shopped out (although I don’t think that one’s possible!). This book didn’t leave me feeling like that: I finished with a sense that I’d been led down too many paths with barely any resolutions.
Let’s start with the premise: it’s been two years, and Becky has a clone in the form of her daughter, Minnie. The idea of the Brandon’s as a family unit fell flat on its face: Luke was barely around, he and Becky were constantly on guard from keeping a million implausible secrets, Minnie was a half-hearted story (apart from in the company of Elinor, when she became a viable part of a storyline), and together they failed to represent a family that was succeeding by the end. Instead, a quick chat with Nanny Sue resolved Luke’s issues and he suddenly became the perfect husband and father, Becky magically resolved her shopaholic tendencies somewhere between the mannequin incident with Minnie and the party, and Minnie went from out of control to angel in six seconds flat. None of the family-oriented stories seemed to have any real substance and seemed to be resolved with no real credibility.
However, one storyline resolved this: Elinor’s. Kinsella wrote Elinor’s sections beautifully, and holding back from revealing Elinor as the party’s benefactor was perfect, as it admitted that not everything can end happily ever after, and any reunion would have compromised Elinor’s sorrowful and truly heartbreaking situation. I think this also brought out the best parts of Becky, which were sorely missed from the rest of the book: she can be utterly brilliant, respectful and act in the best interests of everyone, despite her extravagancies and often ridiculous plans. Elinor Sherman showed that it’s never too late to repent, and that sometimes love is knowing when to allow someone to live without you – and while we know that Elinor deserves no sympathy for the past, she certainly redeems herself here.
Character-wise, I missed Suze, and I think Kinsella’s presentation of Becky needed Suze to make her more realistice: she tries to show our favourite shopaholic as independent, when she’s actually always needed those around her to grow and be shown as naive yet lovable for her efforts to us. This is seen when Becky tells Suze she doesn’t need help with the party, and later has to crawl back – Suze allows Becky to be seen as an adult instead of a caricature.
Essentially, the plot took things a bit too far this time: yes, from previous experience we can believe that Becky would go crazy in a discount store and if she was banned from shopping, but Minnie having spent her pocket money until 2103 was insane, as was Becky’s suspension then sudden dramatically high promotion to the Board of Directors: reality mixed a bit too much with fantasy, and the movement of this borderline was a bit tedious at times, although the leaps into Becky’s far-fetched imagination are always entertaining, mainly because we’ve all had that moment when we’ve imagined something out of proportion to what is actually happening. And likewise, we’ve all had those penny-pinching moments where we’ve overspent in the cheaper shops because we thought we were saving money – oops!
I would have been interested to see how Becky coped at Nanny Sue’s academy, instead of jetting off to L.A. at the end: it seems like one extreme facing another, a land of restriction versus a shopper’s paradise, and we’ve already seen Becky in New York so the former would have been a refreshing change. While my read of ‘Mini Shopaholic’ wasn’t exactly a consumer joy, it was a nice break from a world of recession, and it hasn’t put me off reading the next one, let’s just hope Kinsella returns to her designer chic best!