The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic (by Sophie Kinsella)

My negative preconceptions about so-called 'chick-lit' like this began to be turned upside down about three years ago. But I still couldn't bring myself to read one of those bright pastel covers, until I just happened to come across a book by Sophie Kinsella ('Shopaholic and Sister') in a charity shop. Yes, it was undoutedly chick-lit. It was also intelligent fiction, well-written, with a good dose of humour and some great characterisation.

Soon afterwards, I came across another unrelated book by the same author ('The Undomestic Goddess'), also in charity shop. I very much enjoyed that, too.

So I was very pleased when I came across 'The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic', first in the series, in yet another charity shop. It's taken me just a day and a half to finish it. That's not, I hasten to add, because it's so light that it takes no effort at all. Nor is it that I've skimmed - far from it. Instead, I found it so enjoyable that I carried it around the house with me, dipping into it at every available moment.

Rebecca Bloomwood is a financial journalist. Somehow, she managed to bluff her way into a high-powered job, without actually knowing anything much about finance. And what nobody realises is that she has a serious addiction to shopping, and no idea at all about budgeting. She's somewhat scatterbrained, highly impulsive, very judgemental about appearances, and thinks nothing of embroidering the truth... or even telling outright lies if they will serve her purpose or (more likely) hide her addiction and shameful debt from those around her.

Rebecca is also surprisingly likeable. She's actually quite humble. She has a bizarre sense of humour. More importantly, she genuinely cares about her family and friends, meaning that the lies she tells them are - in part - to protect them from the truth about who she is, and what she does with her money. Moreover, she has a deep sense of integrity; a moral code that runs deeper than her frivolous nature, and which comes up at surprising - and sometimes moving - moments in the book.

The story basically charts Rebecca's rapid descent into ever-increasing debt, peppered with letters form her bank manager and others. She narrates the story with frequent irony as she attempts to save money by 'investing' and cutting back, and also some clever self-revelation which is quite amusing in places, albeit flavoured at times with irritation at her total unawareness of what she is doing. Or perhaps, like so many addicts, she is simply in denial.

The eventual solution to her problems (because, of course, something has to happen to begin to free her from the nightmare) arises mainly from her own abilities. The ending worked well - it felt right, it tidied up a few ends, but it wasn't too rapid or too neat and perfect. It also left the story a little open for the sequels.

There's a love interest in the story, which is only really resolved towards the end, but it's not fraught with too much tension. I'm glad to say that there aren't any detailed love-scenes, and in the entire book there are only a few expletives.

It's exaggerated, of course. At least, I hope nobody is QUITE as extreme as Rebecca. Yes, you have to suspend reality and yes, Becky can be quite annoying... But it's good fun, well-written, and - in my view - very enjoyable.

All in all, I'd highly recommended this book to adults or teens - probably women, on the whole, though I should think some men might enjoy it too. Particularly recommended if you think this kind of book is going to be nothing but fluff.

Note that for some reason the title was changed the rather less inspiring 'Confessions of a Shopaholic' in the United States edition.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 27th June 2009

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