03/12/2007

The Undomestic Goddess (by Sophie Kinsella)

I have long held a rather negative bias against 'chick-lit'- those brightly-coloured paperbacks often found at airports or supermarkets, with light-weight storylines and (in my view) flat characters and unbelievable situations. I based this view on my reading of about two or three books in this genre some years ago.

But in the past eighteen months or so, I've begun to change. I've discovered that books really shouldn't be judged by their covers, and that some excellent authors enjoy writing in this genre. I was surprised how much I enjoyed 'The Nanny' by Melissa Nathan, and 'Stage by Stage' by Jan Jones. I first read a Sophie Kinsella book ('Shopaholic and Sister') only a few weeks ago, and thought it was very well-written.

So when I saw 'The Undomestic Goddess', also by Sophie Kinsella, for 50c at a charity shop, I couldn't resist.

I have to say, it's a remarkably unlikely tale. The main protagonist, Samantha, is an excessively stressed-out laywer when we first meet her, trying to relax at a beauty therapist. She doesn't want to be there, and she is in denial about her level of stress... she fills in a questionnaire for the therapist, which I thought was a very clever way to sum up her character quickly and succinctly.

Samantha comes from a family of high-flyers, and her one dream in life is to become a partner at the firm she works for. This is on the cards, and she is awaiting the decision day with trepidation. Success seems to be in her grasp when she discovers, to her horror, that she has made a mistake. A fifty million pound mistake. She over-reacts with immense shock, and runs away, unable to face her colleagues.

Then for some strange reason she knocks on the door of a likely looking house in a small village, hoping for a glass of water. Instead she finds herself being interviewed for the position of housekeeper, something she is entirely unqualified to do. She cannot cook anything more complicated than toast. She has no idea how to iron, or even how to use a washing machine. Nonetheless, she decides she might as well go for it, and manages to fool her kind-hearted but gullible new employers.

Nathaniel, the gardener, is not so easily fooled, however. He's the obvious hero of the book,and sure enough, Samantha finds herself desperately attracted to him. He rescues her (having a delightful mother who is happy to give cookery lessons and other advice) and gradually Samantha finds herself enjoying her new life, once she has learned the rudiments. Actually, for such a total klutz in the kitchen, she seems to learn high-class cuisine with remarkable ease and speed... but then reality does have to be slighty suspended for the duration of this book.

So much I could have gathered from the blurb on the front cover, and really there isn't a whole lot more plot. The climax and conclusion are somewhat inevitable, but it's all really very well-written. Yes, the people are mostly caricatures, and the situations are bizarre, almost surreal - but the conversation flows, Samantha becomes more likeable as she relaxes, and there's a great deal of humour. A couple of times I actually caught myself chuckling out loud, which is most unusual for me while reading.

Although there's some bad language used, it's not excessive; although there's a rather well-written section showing the building up of sexual tension, the inevitable culmination is not, thankfully, described at all. I was very glad not to have to page through lengthy descriptions of intimacy.

I read this in two days, finding it almost impossible to put down once I had started. Light and frothy - yes. Great substance - no. Witty - undoubtedly. Will I read more of Sophie Kinsella, should I come across more of her novels? Definitely.

1 comment:

Sverige said...

I really enjoyed reading this book. I wasn't too thrilled with the main character in the Shopaholic Series but Samantha was very likeable... I found that I was routing for her throughout the book. So many times the main characters are almost annoying and you want them to fail but I really came to like Samantha.