Review: ‘My Not-So-Perfect Life’ by Sophie Kinsella

I’m not afraid to admit that I’d lost a little faith in Sophie Kinsella following ‘Mini Shopaholic’ – I still haven’t plucked up the courage to try any more Shopaholics at least! However, ‘My Not-So-Perfect Life’ was half price at WH Smiths at a time when I was craving a good book, and I remembered my love of ‘Undomestic Goddess’, ‘Twenties Girl’ and the first three Shopaholics and thought ‘why not’?

And I was right to trust in those books!

Katie Brenner (definitely not Cat!) is one of my new favourite modern heroines, she’s trying to fit into a confusing world with her ambitions at her side and I loved her for it. She’s the most human character I’ve come across in a while, and it worked well against the few stereotypes used to sustain smaller characters, making them seem more realistic than just stock. It was like lifting the lid on what we all think: we need to appear to have it all together, when in actuality finding someone who does have everything in hand is rarer than a flying monkey. It linked to our social media lives without being cloying or preaching, and it was a relief to see someone finally admit that the thousand words behind a photograph might not necessarily be pleasant!

The plot wasn’t trying to be anything over-complicated, and again it was a pleasure for it. We’re so used to everything having tangents and sub-plots and subterfuge, it was refreshing to just be able to follow a (fairly) straight line. You never think about bullying coming from the bottom ranks to the top, so it was an interesting take on an old story, and watching Katie and Demeter, the big scary boss, become allied against this injustice was empowering. Everything was what it was, and that’s a rarity in modern fiction, and a delight.

Talking of Demeter, I liked how the big scaries of the company Cooper Clemmow (Demeter, Alex, even Adrian) weren’t overly imposing or difficult to comprehend; they were the big shots, but you were able to get them without feeling like they were deviating from their characters too wildly in order for them to be seen as humans, not robots in the machine. There was one bit in particular I really appreciated, and that was the small moment between Demeter and her husband; it wasn’t all a veneer, they did really care about one another, it was just as it is in real life – a bit chaotic at home! Kinsella’s wonderful at that though, remembering to keep her situations real and recognisable.

I think that’s what makes this book superb; it’s not trying to be profound or over-the-top, it’s just holding up a mirror to life in an attempt to make us remember it’s ok to be not-so-perfect all the time. In fact, if anything, its the imperfections that make us better – look at Demeter having to admit to her staff that she wasn’t as glossy as she projected at the end, where they liked her all the more for it! We could learn a lot from the Katie-Demeter combo – ambition is great, but reality can be better.

Review: ‘Mini Shopaholic’ by Sophie Kinsella

Becky's back: better or bust?

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!

Review: ‘Twenties Girl’ by Sophie Kinsella

After the success of the ‘Shopaholic’ series, I’ve been a keen Sophie Kinsella fan, and ‘Twenties Girl’ has done nothing to change this. However, I do believe that this is one of her weaker novels, with constant slips in style, particularly with regard to the main character, Lara.

These slips occurred mainly in Lara’s speech: occasionally it would include a word or phrase that didn’t quite suit her careful, over-thinking character, and instead of showing Lara opening up her mind, it just sounded awkward and rather embarrassing. At one point, she says to Sadie, ‘you rock!’, which would sound absolutely fine if someone who was normally optimistic, but as a constant analyst, this seemed like too big a slip to match any developments in Lara’s character.

However, the storyline was incredibly touching: being able to have a second chance to know a departed family member, who will then change your life enormously through the process, allowed Kinsella to add her own twist on the typical ghost-story genre. Sadie’s selfishness was able to break through the usually profound nature of ghostly visits in order to show that even the afterlife can be selfish, as well as reinforcing that, at heart, we all just want to remain the twenty year-old with the world at their feet. Personally, it also resonated with the idea that losing your memory does not mean losing your identity: old age does not stop the elderly wanting to live again.

The only thing lacking in the storyline was Josh’s role: I felt a bit like I needed more from him in order to understand just how drastically Sadie had changed Lara’s life; although Kinsella does illustrate the significant growth in her character with Lara’s newfound relationship with Ed Harrison, it could have been magnified. On that note, Ed’s role was also underused as the knight in shining armour, as he showed Lara’s transition but I feel like I would have liked to have understood him a bit more in order to see how they both healed one another. Similarly, I would have liked to have known a little bit more about Natalie in order to comprehend how a friendship could be so badly misinterpreted, to the brink of financial ruin.

The headhunter business was probably one of the more difficult careers to follow, although Kinsella pulled it off, as only in that situation could Sadie really leave a lasting imprint to help Lara and ‘Magic Search’; this feat would definitely have been more difficult with another career where a path is sketched out for you, as opposed to one where you have to forge your own way without help.

The background story of the necklace and the painting was probably the best part of the novel, as it provided both an ending and an unexpected addition: Kinsella could have easily left the novel at Sadie being boisterous and then helping Lara when realising how much she needed Ed and her career. Until the painting was said to be in the National Gallery, I did not realise Bill Lington’s real role within the novel, and seeing him getting his comeuppance was a wonderful dose of karma that the novel sorely needed in order to show the universe does have a structure (even if that structure does send dead relatives to guide us!). It also helped to show that the little man can dominate, bringing in the old classic of good versus evil which is subtly embedded to allow the underdog to triumph.

‘Twenties Girl’ is a must for all Sophie Kinsella fans, as even though it doesn’t top the hilarious ‘Shopaholic’ series (what could?!), it is a fresh, fun read, perfect as a pick-me-up for anyone who wants to see a little fish dominate the big pond.