05/12/2013

Can you keep a secret? (by Sophia Kinsella)

I discovered Sophie Kinsella relatively recently; after many years of disparaging this classic ‘chick-lit’ writer, I was finally persuaded to read one of her books - and loved it. Gradually I’ve collected and read almost everything else she has written, thanks to charity shops and church bookstalls. While they are undoubtedly fluffy and somewhat unbelievable, she has a great writing style with a lot of ironic humour. She doesn’t get bogged down in descriptions or detail, and her bedroom scenes, thankfully, are usually behind closed doors.

So when I saw ‘Can you keep a secret?’ in a charity shop a few months ago, I had no hesitation in buying it. This is the story of Emma, a young assistant in a fictional organisation known as Panther, which produces soft drinks, chocolate bars and more. In the first chapter we find her at a business meeting where she is supposed to be bringing closure to a deal that can’t possibly go wrong, only to have it fall apart as she watches. She doesn’t actually have any idea what’s going on…. and then she makes it worse.

A friendly and sympathetic air hostess offers her an upgrade to business class on her return flight, but despite her comfortable seat, there is serious turbulence, so much so that Emma is convinced that the plane is going to crash. She panics and starts talking randomly to the man sitting next to her, spurting out all her secrets. Nothing major… just faked exam results, posh label clothes bought at charity shops, pretences about her weight... and many more intimate details that would not normally be disclosed even to a close friend.

Then the plane lands, and Emma assumes that she will never meet this man again. But then, if that happened, there would be no story.

The majority of the plot revolves around a slow and very tentative friendship that develops when they do in fact meet again, and discover that they are perhaps the only two people around who are honest about their feelings. Although even he seems to be keeping a lot of secrets…

It’s nicely done, with some amusing caricatures amongst the minor characters in this novel, and some interesting friends and relatives. Emma’s confessions return to haunt her in more ways than one, and the growing relationship is, inevitably, hindered in a variety of ways, most of them unexpected. Of all the books I’ve read by Sophie Kinsella this is the one that most closely resembles a classic boy-meets-girl story with a predictable ending, even though much of what happens during the story is far from predictable. And while Emma reminded me more than once of Kinsella’s most famous heroine, Becky Bloomfield of Shopaholic fame, she is far more careful with her money and less inclined (other than when flying) to make spontaneous decisions that she later regrets.

It’s not great literature but it was an amusing book to read at bedtime over a few days, and I found myself reading several chapters at a time towards the end, eager to know how things would pan out. There’s more bad language than I’m comfortable with, but not enough to be seriously overdone. And while the inevitable intimate scenes take place, as expected, off the pages of the book, there’s what seems to me a rather exaggerated amount of discussion about sex, and a rapidity about embarking on it which surprised me, despite my familiarity with modern fictional heroines who seem to have little else on their minds.

There’s an underlying theme about the importance of honesty in relationships, which raises this somewhat above the level of typical chick-lit. On the whole I’d recommend it if you want something light and undemanding and don't object to the somewhat 'adult' nature of much of the dialogue.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews

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