Camping is not my thing. Although, I would like to visit the Somerset Glamping where Katie grew up in Sophie Kinsella’s latest novel My (Not So) Perfect Life! Not that she wants to be there. Her dream is to have a glamorous career in the fast-paced world of marketing in London. Working with brands, being creative, rich and important; that’s our 26-year-old protagonist’s dream as she starts her first job at Cooper Clemmow in London.
Katie – call me Cat – has changed her name and accent to disguise her background as a farmer’s daughter. And that’s not all that’s fake. What about her Instagram feed that’s showing everybody a fabulously successful and glamorous lifestyle, with those perfect coffees she can’t really afford. But one day her life will be like her Instagram account… Right?
Actually, Katie’s first job in London doesn’t really turn out the way she had hoped for. Her days are filled with monotonous administrative tasks, while worrying how she’s going to make ends meet this month. She couldn’t be further away from the seemingly ideal life of her horrible boss Demeter, who in her perfect haughtiness embodies all that Katie aspires to. Just when she thinks things can’t get worse, Demeter sacks Katie, leaving her no option but to unceremoniously head back to the countryside, where her farmer dad is setting up a clamping.
This somewhat clichéd rapport between Katie and Demeter could easily result in another stereotypical good guy vs. bad guy story. But I feel that it stops short of that, because I couldn’t find any characters to feel sympathetic to in the first place. I could tell you that the book has some kind of moralistic message at the end: That the grass is no greener on the other side, and that even successful people have their secret struggles. Though for me, this is a bit too little and too late, because I find it difficult to indulge in plots of childish jealousy and revenge. Though our main character is obviously meant to be received as likeable and relatable, I found her egotistic, as well as insensitive to others. It’s like she has not left puberty, and I noticed that during my read, I kept hoping that real 26-year-olds aren’t really like that. At least, I hope I wasn’t…
Having said that, there is a plot twist near the end of the book that I found really original. Indeed, even the stereotypical evil boss appears to have a sensitive side. It’s a bit of a shame that this revelation of surprise humanity is immediately paired with the emergence of a new set of evil masterminds. So that puts us safely back in the we’re-good/they’re-bad territory.
Kinsella’s written more than twenty chick lits and staying true to the trope, this book delivers nothing new: a twenty-something female character who struggles to build a career, runs into a handsome hard-to-get man and is faced with some Cruella de Vil-like competition that makes life so much harder for her. Add to that the dream of a better and more luxurious lifestyle, and you’ve got all the ingredients for your standard chick lit. Is this a bad thing? Not really – it delivers exactly what people have come to expect.
With this mix of readily-available cupboard ingredients, Kinsella has succeeded in creating a light and airy read. For all the obnoxious twenty-something drama and gender stereotyping, My (Not So) Perfect Life is a fast-paced and sharply modern piece, offering relatable scenes, while being honest about love and loneliness. Below the surface, Kinsella does aim to shed light on the growing great divide between the rich and poor, between those who sprint to the top, and those invisible folk who fall by the wayside in these social media-crazed times.