Book Review: Shopaholic Takes Manhattan

Shopaholic Takes Manhattan
(aka Shopaholic Abroad)
by Sophie Kinsella

About the book: With her shopping excesses (somewhat) in check and her career as a TV financial guru thriving, Becky Bloomwood’s biggest problem seems to be tearing her entrepreneur boyfriend, Luke, away from work for a romantic country weekend. That is, until Luke announces he’s moving to New York for business—and he asks Becky to go with him! Before you can say “Prada sample sale,” Becky has landed in the Big Apple, home of Park Avenue penthouses and luxury department stores.
 
Surely it’s only a matter of time until Becky becomes an American celebrity. She and Luke will be the toast of Gotham society. Nothing can stand in their way, especially with Becky’s bills an ocean away in London. But then an unexpected disaster threatens her career prospects, her relationship with Luke, and her available credit line. Becky may have taken Manhattan—but will she have to return it?

I’m currently binging Shopaholic books, which extends to anything by author Sophie Kinsella—and to be honest intended just to read and enjoy Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, not write any review. Part of Kinsella’s brilliance, however, is that her creation Becky Bloomwood’s world makes you want  to write about the book, telling everybody who will listen what a fun and smashing story it is.

I’d actually also read this second in Kinsella’s Shopaholic series yonks ago and indeed remembered some of the scenes, such as when Bloomwood, the financial journalist, confesses to us readers that she has a bit of an overdraft. I also recall thinking way back when how funny yet poignant—plus addicting—these books are, each one truly a new creation.

The author also has a gift for observing and reporting on human nature—we recognize ourselves in Bloomwood’s excesses, which include not only shopping but also her loveable and occasionally infuriating insecurity, or desire to help others achieve their goals without accurate measure of impracticality. Her dreams are as large as her heart, even if she at times fails to identify the impact she has on others—becoming a shop assistant, for example, and hiding clothes from customers in her on-the-clock shopping quest, even when the situation’s absurdity is evident to all but herself.

But Becky’s at-times inability to single out what she could be saying or reporting to others in a jam, while it can also transform itself into something much larger than it really is, might just have an upside…maybe?

Opening with a return letter from Becky’s bank manager, Kinsella offers us a taste of her protagonist’s personality and foibles:

It is true that we have known each other a long time, and I am pleased that you consider me “more than just a bank manager.” I agree that friendship is important and was glad to hear that you would always lend me money should I need it.

 However, I cannot reciprocate, as you suggest, by wiping £1,000 off your overdraft “accidentally on purpose.” I can assure you, the money would be missed.

 Instead, I am prepared to extend your overdraft limit by another £500, taking it up to £4,000, and suggest that we meet before too long to discuss your ongoing financial needs.

In this way Kinsella introduces Becky’s unselfconscious nature with perfect balance, continually utilizing letters, conversations, character introspection, budgets, situations and more: we as readers recognize her circumstances for what they are while she doesn’t, though the author never overplays her hand. Sure, Becky always has some reason why her casually over-the-top spending is justified—”it’s an investment, really”—but we want to keep reading, as exasperated as we may become with her behavior.

Along the way Becky articulates herself in a manner that resonates, such as by admitting to “a slight dentisty feeling of dread” on the morning of her appointment with important American television reps. Kinsella continues to build Becky’s world and its opportunities without relying on repetition, and as the book progresses we begin to realize she’s tossed in a bit of mystery amidst the already grand humiliation Becky experiences when her world not only is shattered, but done so as well with what seems like the entire world focused on her alone.


“Bex, why did he think you were in the artificial limb unit?”

“I don’t know,” I say evasively. “Maybe he heard something. Or … I may possibly have written him the odd letter…”

“Bex,” interrupts Suze, and her voice is quivering slightly. “You told me you’d taken care of all those bills. You promised!”

“I have taken care of them!” I reach for my hairbrush and begin to brush my hair.

“By telling them your parachute didn’t open in time?” cries Suze. “I mean, honestly, Bex—”

“Look, don’t stress. I’ll sort it all out as soon as I come home.”


Like its predecessor, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan is told from Becky’s point of view—the only way, really—and in present tense. I mention this because this can be a tricky way to story tell, and many readers are turned off by or completely avoid it. Kinsella, however, is a master of fluidity, with authentic language, perceptions, mannerisms, character observations and descents into the wrong directions, and her narrative transitions from place to place and time to time so naturally it’s next to impossible to put down. Shopaholic Takes Manhattan doesn’t just flow and neither does it merely grip audiences to its tale as they observe Becky’s efforts to reconcile her own mismanagement. With a whole series ahead, readers will want to explore every one of its installments—and its re-readability factor is an easy sale!

Don’t miss my review for Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret?

Book Review: Can You Keep a Secret?

Can You Keep a Secret?
by Sophie Kinsella

Well, can you? OK, here’s my confession: I read chick lit. Sure, it’s considered “fluffy” by some, unthinking, shallow, blah blah blah. I’ve heard it all and—wait, rewind! No, no, I’m not going to say I don’t read in this genre. The reality is that it’s not a secret!

Here’s what many people don’t really know about me (this is not a secret, either): finishing a great book is an accomplishment. I don’t carry on for days about it, or often bring it up, but once I close the back cover, there’s a positive sensation of completion as I think back about the world I’ve just inhabited for a while. I feel like I’ve achieved an understanding, perhaps a valuable observation that takes weight off my mind, rather than adds to everything else I have to carry in there.

As I finished Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? I was still smiling, thinking about how funny we humans can be, and Kinsella’s skill at tapping into that. There’s the klutzy heroine with her ditzy moments, hunky male, challenging (read: mean) colleagues and sticky situations. But we also see Emma Corrigan’s humanity shine through as her embarrassment peaks, her explanations stumble and she goes home utterly humiliated. Also visible are her intelligence and justified resentment, the determined dignity she insists upon when others’ actions—intended or not—threaten to strip it from her. Within all that, we also see ourselves.

The novel opens to Emma’s daydreaming about her secrets during a Glasgow business meeting she’s flown from London to attend—attendance she’d achieved through a mixture of persuasion and dumb luck—and its grand and devastating conclusion as she inadvertently sprays a Panther Cola spinoff drink all over the client representative her marketing firm has just lost. On the way home her devastation is paired with abject terror as the plane encounters some clear-air turbulence, resulting in minor injuries to some passengers. Already not a fan of flying, she begins to spill all her secrets to an American sitting nearby, who later turns out to be the elusive CEO of the company she works for, Panther Corporation. As her two worlds begin to collide hilarity ensues, as does some serious reckoning.

About midway through the novel I realized Emma was telling her story in present tense, which I don’t have any hard and fast rule against, as do some; my surprise came from the length of time it took to recognize. About a month or two ago I read a work of historical fiction whose clunky present tense contributed to slowdown of an otherwise well-woven tale. Here, however, I found myself practically speeding through the pages as I could barely wait to find out what would happen next.

Kinsella’s main characters are well developed—with the exception of the handsome stranger and one of Emma’s flatmates, both for very distinctive reasons—and there’s a poignancy within that adds rather than takes away from the plot because the author’s management style knows not only when to restrain an angle or move it into another direction. She also captures nuance with some exclamation point usage that indicates Emma’s own self-awareness, and enough introspection that keeps her persona authentic.

Anyone who has ever experienced any of this author’s other novels will recognize a formula, but what is discussed above is only part of what makes it work—and Kinsella engages that magic repeatedly. She knows how to create charming characters whose actions are believable and relatable, never recycling phrases or mishaps, and brings us back to her themes with subtly and brilliantly woven scenarios.

Though the book is fourteen years old, the angles of aiming for honesty and genuine communication, along with a repeat evaluation of how often any of us fall into a mob-mentality of mean-spirited piling on remain timely— perhaps more so than ever. The author also presents them without lecturing and really gets it right with hilarious blow ups and serious letdowns alike. Her characters are likeable (well, except that horrible Jemima!) and it’s a fun, relaxing and rewarding yarn, and not just as a break in between serious reading. Kinsella scores again with Can You Keep a Secret? and when it comes to great tales, this is one readers should most definitely not keep close to the vest.

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Also recently read and recommend by Sophie Kinsella: My Not So Perfect Life