Surprise Me (by Sophie Kinsella)

I have very much enjoyed everything I have read by Sophie Kinsella. She is considered a ‘chick-lit’ writer, and it took me awhile to try her work - but she covers some deep themes, sometimes, amidst the superficiality of some of her situations. She writes well, with humour and pathos, and if her people are somewhat caricatured, they are (mostly) likeable too. I put 'Surprise Me' - a novel published last year - on my wish list as soon as it came out in paperback, and was delighted to receive it for Christmas.

Sylvie is the narrator of this book. She appears to have the ideal life when we first meet her. She is married to the delectable Dan, and they have twin five-year-old daughters. They both admit that the baby years were stressful, but Dan supported Sylvie throughout, and is a great father. Sylvie has a job she likes too - working in admin for a small museum. Her boss, the owner of the museum, is old-fashioned and unwilling to modernise, but it seems to be making money anyway…

It’s their tenth anniversary when the story starts. They have a celebratory meal, and then go for a medical check-up for their private insurance company. All goes well, and the doctor lets them know that, barring accidents, they could live until the age of a hundred or more. Which means they probably have another sixty-eight years of marriage ahead of them.

This number is a shock to both Sylvie and Dan, so they decide that, in order to enliven the next few decades, they should introduce a few surprises. Inevitably these don’t go as planned, and there are a few amusing chapters as they both attempt the unexpected…

Meanwhile, Sylvie’s boss’s nephew has arrived, and it looks as though he may try to close the museum down. He certainly wants to modernise and improve efficiency. And after one of Dan’s surprises, the only one which seems to have been successful, Sylvie starts to wonder if he is bored with her and looking elsewhere.

There are so many issues touched upon in this book. Sylvie reminds me of others of Sophie Kinsella’s heroines - she’s a bit flaky, though not particularly materialistic, and she tends to see situations in absolute terms. She jumps to the worst conclusions about several situations, and thinks nothing of checking other people’s phones or browser histories. However, she is kind and loyal, and running through the whole book is a thread of unconditional love. She showers this on her daughters and also her husband, even when she suspects the worst.

There were one or two scenes where I laughed aloud - something that happens rarely when I am reading - and others where I was extremely moved. I found it difficult to put the book down, as I followed along in Sylvie’s trail, wondering just what was going on with her husband, and also with her closed-up mother. There are thoughtful subplots too, involving both sets of her immediate neighbours.

This won’t appeal to people who prefer more serious plots, or more realistic - or at least less ditzy - characters. It’s chick-lit at its best, in my view, but even the best of this genre does not appeal to everyone. However if you like light women’s fiction, and don’t object to quite a bit of ‘strong’ language (my one gripe with the book) I would recommend this highly.

Review by Sue F copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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