Shopaholic and Baby (by Sophie Kinsella)

For years I was biased against 'Chick-lit' fiction, and would not even consider reading books by Sophie Kinsella. I am so glad that I overcame this bias, persuaded by reviews from people whose views I respect, and picked up 'Shopaholic and Sister' from a local charity shop.

That was nearly five years ago. While I liked the book very much, and then read other Kinsella books when I saw them second-hand, I never quite reached the stages of putting them on my wishlist or buying them new.  Then, earlier this year, I realised that I had read all of the first four Shopaholic books, albeit in the wrong order, and had the sixth one, also found in a local charity shop, waiting to be read. It occurred to me that I would do better to read the fifth one - Shopaholic and Baby - before the sixth, given the subject matter... and found it on special offer.

As with the others in the series, this book features Becky, the compulsive - but very kindhearted - shopping addict. In this story, she and Luke have been married for about a year and are expecting their first baby. So, naturally, Becky finds herself visiting a whole new selection of shops, looking for prams, baby clothes, and vast arrays of other paraphernalia that are apparently necessary to bring a new person into the world.

She is also determined to register with Venetia Carter, a famous obstetrician... only to find that she's an old Cambridge flame of Luke's. Venetia seems determined to captivate Luke all over again, while making Becky feel as unattractive as she possibly can. Luke appears distracted and Becky worries that she's losing him...

It could have been dreary, it could have been nothing but fluff... but Sophie Kinsella is a gifted writer. In the first few chapters I actually laughed aloud a couple of times - very unusual for me! - and then found myself reading late into the night, wondering what would happen. While some of the people in the book are undoubtedly caricatures, including Becky herself at one level, I can't help liking her very much and rooting for her throughout.

There are some quite serious issues raised in the book: of honesty within relationships, and how far one can trust one's spouse in the face of conflicting evidence. The importance of friendship is highlighted again, and Becky finds herself considering her true values, albeit often hidden behind her rampantly materialistic persona.

The baby isn't actually born until the final pages, so the book could perhaps have been called 'Shopaholic and Bump'; however I like the way that the baby is considered as a person throughout. I'm glad I read this before embarking on the final book in the series, which is evidently rather more about the baby turning into a child.

As one who really doesn't like shops and has no interest in fashion whatsoever, I would still recommend this book - and, indeed, the whole series, although they all stand alone - to anyone who feels like a light read.  I particularly like the way that Becky and Luke's intimate life is referred to only in passing, without any detail at all. There is some bad language, but it's mostly used appropriately - if that's possible - and I didn't find it too offensive.

First published in 2007 but still in print, widely available second-hand, and also in electronic form for the Kindle.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 11th August 2012

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