Chick Lit: The books, not the gum
Sophie Kinsella is one of those authors whose prose you can spot a mile away. She’s undeniably British, her characters are humorously self-effacing, and her stories generally start with a crazy situation and end with a kind of fairy tale satisfaction. Here, because they’ve been sitting on my floor for weeks as I put off writing this post, are two of her works that prove my point:
Samantha Sweeting, despite her crazy name, is quite possibly my favorite chic lit protagonist, and here’s why: she’s a high-powered lawyer with a huge firm in London, with an amazing work ethic, a drive to be the best, and a potential offer for partner in her firm. Unfortunately, as these things go, she finds an overdue memo on her desk, loses a client 50 million pounds (approximately 100 million dollars), and finds herself working as a housekeeper in the Cotswolds.
That premise was enough to make me spring the 75 cents at my local Goodwill for a decent secondhand copy. And okay, so the end was a little cutesy and you know from the second he walks into the kitchen and smells the burning chickpeas that the handsome gardener will fall for Samantha. But it was also pretty gutsy, in its own small way.
Samantha is pulled between menial but satisfying work as a housekeeper, and her glittering career as a corporate attorney. And as a rule, books like this leave me cheering for the protagonist as she undergoes her spiritual journey or whatever and realizes that she deserves to be an attorney because she’s smart, damn it, and she should use her Ivy League education.
Not this time – and while I think that probably a more satisfying ending could have worked out, I do admire the emotional realism of the one Kinsella used (if not realism regarding the odds of a handsome, college-educated, pub-owning, lawyer-hating gardener coming to London to search for his lady love, who he has recently realized has been lying to him about her identity for several months).
My first impression of the book was that a soon-to-be-mother should not be drinking cocktails at all, let alone three, and that apparently that is not as taboo in Britain as it is here. Wow.
The main plot is that Candice is reunited with a girl from high school whose father was ruined by Candice’s father’s shady business dealings. Candice makes an attempt to make up with this girl by getting her a job, moving her into her apartment, and generally letting herself be taken advantage of in every way. She is egged on by her across-the-hall neighbor, while her friends, Maggie and Roxanne, deal with a baby and the death of a long-term clandestine lover, respectively.
It’s safe to say that this is an earlier book of Kinsella’s (who writes under the name Wickham for this book). The protagonists aren’t as sparkly as Becky Bloomwood and Samantha Sweeting, and though they all (with the exception of Candice) seem to have their feet firmly planted in reality, that’s not really what I’m looking for in a book like this. I didn’t find them as endearing as Kinsella’s other characters, sadly, though Maggie was passable.
For more books by Sophie Kinsella, try Can You Keep a Secret? which is about a girl who spills her secrets to a man next to her on a plane who turns out to be her new boss. Really good, actually, and much better than the entire Shopaholic series (though try Shopaholic Takes Manhattan if you’re determined to read something from the set).