Surprise Me

by Sophie Kinsella

Where’s the joy in our lives?” He looks around the kitchen with a questing gaze, as though it might be in a jar labeled joy, next to turmeric.

In Surprise Me Sophie Kinsella has achieved an undercurrent of real depth, seriousness, and complexity running under the usual fun and humorous shenanigans. There is potential for real danger and harm in the mostly amusing misadventures of our heroine. Maybe it is because the stakes are higher given that the possible outcome is the breakup of the happy marriage of a mother and father of two little kids. A family is at risk, not just a single girl seeking love and career success. In addition, we are teased with the possibility that our unreliable narrator, Sylvie, is actually unstable and in serious danger of a breakdown once the truth is revealed. Fairly early on in the book, the reader realizes that our heroine has been coddled and cosseted all of her life. She lives life in a bubble wrapped in cotton wool and sprinkled with sparkles. She hero-worships and adores her dead father whom the reader knows early on is not the shining golden hero she thinks he was. We know that she is headed for a fall, and we are in suspense as to what the nature of his weaknesses is and how badly Sylvie will react to her bubble being burst.

Even though we laugh at her antics and inner dialogue and shake our heads at her self-delusions, we like Sylvie. At least I did. She is a sweet funny woman, and good mother, and has her priorities in the right place, despite the fact that she comes from a world of wealth and privilege. Usually the author’s heroes are kind of cardboard and interchangeable, and her heroines kind of shallow. Not so in this book. Both Dan and Sylvie reveal hidden depths. The revealed secrets throw the reader for a loop by both their nature and how widespread the effects. Just when we think we know the extent of the damage, she adds another twist of the knife, and then another. But worry not. The depth of what Sylvie has to confront and heal from makes the resolution all the more affecting. Even powerful. I never thought I would use that word about a Kinsella novel.

Sylvie’s challenges with her personal life would have made this a 5 star book. But Sophie Kinsella ups the ante with a fun career subplot which further reveal her character arc. Add to this mix rich and multifaceted secondary and tertiary characters and you have so much more than her usual light-hearted romp. And the ending was great. It made we want to cheer. I hope SK continues the growth as a writer that she displays in this book: by far my favorite of hers so far.**5 out of 5 stars**

March 21, 2018

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