14th Jun 2012
In Praise Of: Sophie Kinsella
When I was a kid, Sophie Kinsella was the first ‘big girl’ author I ever read. Sure, I’d dappled with the Brontes and Jane Austen and the like, but that was classic literature; ‘big girl’ writing in my eyes was what I now know to be called chick-lit.
I’ve talked before on this site about having a soft spot for chick-lit, and for getting in a tizz when people dismiss it as fluff since chick-lit, to me, is comedy by and for women. And my ultimate chick-lit collection is the Shopaholic series.
If I was going on a desert island and I was allowed to take three series’ of books, alongside Harry Potter and Georgia Nicholson, I would take the Shopaholic series. If I’m stuck on some god-forsaken lonely patch of land on my own for months, I want to be able to have a laugh.
The first book I read from this collection was Shopaholic Abroad, the second in the series. My sister got it free in a magazine (which shows how unknown Kinsella was at the time since you’d have to pay a small fortune for the series now) and I found it hilarious, so I went and bought the first and completed the collection in a couple of weeks.
Despite the fact I was probably too young to understand every reference, being able to still find it a hoot a paragraph is testament to Kinsella’s writing style. Protagonist Becky Bloomwood is the every woman, with enough personality traits for everyone to see themselves within. Love shopping? Got money problems? Stuck in a shit job? Intelligent but occasionally a tiny bit dim? Becky’s got them all covered. And if you don’t fit into any of those categories, I’m sure you can laugh smugly at her.
Now, I know it’s a tired, ridiculous stereotype that all women must love shopping, and I know that loads of women hate it. I, however, adore to shop. I relate to Becky entirely when she talks about the thrill of the shop.
I completely understand when she says people will call her The Girl with the Denny and George Scarf (this started for me in year nine with a beautiful green coat I wore to school.
I went to a party where some sixth formers said they called me The Girl in the Green Coat. My young life felt made). I could so, so easily get in to debt from shopping, but I haven’t because I’ve read these books instead.
It’s so much more than shopping though. It’s pure comedy, especially with the first three books in the series. The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic is the first in the collection so I decided to re-read it before writing this article.
Becky tends to get a bit dimmer with every book that comes out, but in the original she is an intelligent young woman just trying to get through life and her shopping addiction. This was before she married Luke Brandon and had to pay her own way so the debt actually mattered. It could so, so easily be a gritty tale of our times, but it’s not. It’s hilarious and approachable and I could go on forever but I won’t. Because Kinsella is more than a one hit wonder.
There are several other books written under her name including The Undomestic Goddess in which a top lawyer runs away from her job to the country so that you don’t have to.
Can You Keep A Secret? is another Kinsella Klassic (see what I did there?) that I enjoyed as a teenager and still thoroughly enjoy today.
Kinsella also writes under the pseudonym of Madeleine Wickham but I haven’t read any of those books for two reasons. One is that the name Wickham seems like it’s stolen from Pride and Prejudice and Mr Wickham has always given me the creeps.
The second reason is that these books are apparently quite serious and that’s not what I personally want from Kinsella. I love her comedy too much to delve in to her darker writing.
I gained a whole lot more love for Kinsella when she did a Guardian interview a while back and managed to make the interviewer look like a downright dick when she laughed off the suggestion that to write and enjoy chick lit you must be stupid. She’s intelligent with a marvellous education and a foot firmly in the business of finance. She’s not stupid and neither are her readers.
I implore you to pick up The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic if you haven’t already. I beg you to look past the girly front covers that curse every chick lit novel out there. Kinsella is an absolute comedy genius and fantastic observational writer. I’m going to go read some more of Becky’s life now and I hope you’ll do the same.
Have you ever read Sophie Kinsella’s work? Do you feel the same? Which other chick lit writers could take her Comedy Mistress title?