I just finished the novel Queen of Babble, by Princess Diaries author Meg Cabot. I, like a lot of folks, am a huge fan of Meg Cabot and while I didn’t read all of The Princess Diaries books, I managed to devour All-American Girl (the first book and its sequel) and Princess Lessons (I’m pretty sure I read the first book in The Princess Diaries after seeing the Disney classic with Anne Hathaway. Princess Lessons is a sort of follow-up to the series). However, I heard about Queen of Babble but thought I wasn’t old enough to read it since I was just a preteen reading YA books. I am glad that I got to savor it this time though, because it is FUNNY. After reading so many serious depressing books I needed to read something that was going to help me sleep at night.
It’s about this young woman named Lizzie, who lives in England with her boyfriend, Andrew, and his parents. Andrew works as a waiter to pay his way through school, but then he gambles all his money with some friends and is now broke, so he files for unemployment benefits. But Lizzie gives away the fact that Andrew is working already, jeopardizing Andrew’s chance at getting unemployment benefits and his relationship with Lizzie. When he asks Lizzie for money, Lizzie loses trust in him and goes to visit her friend Shari and Shari’s boyfriend, Chaz, in France for a wedding they are attending. On the train to France, Lizzie meets a dashing man named Jean-Luc (Luke for short). Honestly, throughout this book I kept envisioning actor Timothee Chalamet playing this guy. They have the same looks (dark curly hair and seductive eyes) and are sensitive beings. Also, considering Timothee spent a lot of his summers in France and his dad is French, and Jean-Luc is French, this would be a casting choice that would make many of us swoon with joy). But Lizzie finds out Luke already has a girlfriend even with their very intimate encounter on the train, and it turns out this pretentious girlfriend, Dominique, doesn’t like Lizzie all that much. The thing that really gets Lizzie involved in everything going on at the de Villiers estate is the wedding for Luke’s cousin Vicky. Here is where Lizzie’s passion and skills for fashion are put to the test; she discovers many designer dresses when at the estate, dresses that people would normally not care much for, and she comes to learn more about herself than she ever did living with Andrew back in England.
Lizzie reminded me so much of Miriam Maisel, the title character of the TV series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In the show Miriam is a mother of two kids who lives in a traditional American 1950s home. She seems to be happy as her husband, Joel, goes off to work every day, but then she finds out he has been cheating on her with his secretary, Penny. Joel works a traditional 9-5 job and brings home the bacon, but he also performs at the local comedy club in the evenings because he wants to be a stand-up comedian. Unfortunately, most of his jokes are weak, but after Midge leaves Joel, she drinks heavily one night and does a stand-up routine that catches the attention of Susie, who books the gigs at the club. Like Lizzie, Midge voices her opinion and doesn’t apologize for it, but her chattiness also gets her in trouble with relationships. One time Midge does an act where she badmouths a famous comedian and it backfires on her; she also does an act where she publicly insults her father’s work at a lab and his relationship with her mother. But although Midge’s loquacious nature has gotten her in hot water with those closest to her, she also speaks truth, especially when it comes to addressing issues of sexism. During her first gig at the comedy club, she lets loose how Joel cheated on her for Penny and curses so much that the police arrest her for “indecency”. Midge’s willingness to speak truth and not be afraid of calling people out on their stuff (especially chauvinist male comedians who talk down to her) meant a lot during that time, especially because women were still expected to not speak up about social issues.
Lizzie ends up developing a close friendship with Agnes, the resident au-pair at the de Villiers’ estate, because she is so unassuming and doesn’t come from the prestige of Luke or Dominique’s background. In one scene, Agnes brings over a delicious-sounding sandwich (which sounded like pain au chocolat) consisting of a Hershey bar wrapped in a French baguette (oh gosh, just thinking about it is giving me ASMR tingles…) and while everyone else turns their nose up at it (Shari, Chaz, Dominique), Lizzie eats it because she knows it is rude to say “no” when Agnes went through the trouble of making them such a delicious sandwich. Also, she eats it and thinks it tastes out of this world, so of course she wouldn’t turn down something so delicious. On a side note, this makes me think that I need to be more gracious when I go to another country and people offer me food that I cannot eat. In India, I felt bad because I couldn’t drink chai or eat sweets since they had dairy in them, and so one of my fellow classmates told me she would eat the sweets for me, but that I should take one because it was good manners. I mean, how would I feel if I went through the trouble of making a delicious dish and then find out the person I was offering it to didn’t want it? It probably would feel like a punch in the gut.
The book also reminded me of The Clique by Lisi Harrison. In the series Massie Block is a rich New Yorker who is popular and has a group of friends who gossip and are just straight-up vain. Claire Lyons is an enthusiastic girl from Florida who moves with her family to Massie’s guesthouse. Massie wants nothing to do with Claire, but Claire wants to be friends with her. But because Massie is the stereotypical Regina George-style mean girl, she and her friends do everything in their power to put Claire down, to make her feel small. Dominique reminded me of Massie, and Lizzie reminded me of Claire. I was also feeling elements of Bridesmaids and Legally Blonde while reading Queen of Babble because these films feature women who don’t conform to the rules and, as outsiders, gain a very unique perspective on life, like Lizzie gains a new perspective by being this super outgoing person among people who keep to themselves.
This book also taught me the importance of loving yourself and using your untapped potential to discover new opportunities. Lizzie thinks her fashion degree or retail work won’t get her anywhere because other people tell her it’s useless, but when she is tasked with fixing Vicky’s wedding dress, her self-confidence is put to the test and she learns how to actually put her skills to use and overcome that impostor syndrome that tells her no one cares about what she does with fashion. Lizzie’s struggle to make her career viable reminds me of my own self; I struggle with the idea of a music career because many people aren’t far from the truth when they say it is very hard to have a full-time career in music, and I also think that it’s really what you make of it. Yes, music opportunities are hard to find, but I have learned to work on my own personal creative projects, such as this blog, so that I don’t have to limit myself in terms of how I see myself as a musician. I also sometimes fall into that self-pity pit where I think no one cares about philosophy majors or musicians or writers, and then I try to block out those thoughts each time they come up by writing, playing music, or thinking with a critical eye about the world around me wherever I find myself. It’s also important to have loved ones to be there to give you the real when things are rough; Lizzie’s grandmother is unfiltered, and straight up tells Lizzie to stop with the tears and just leave Andrew. She tells Lizzie to not give up, that she will have a boyfriend, and to go see her friend Shari instead of dwell on Andrew. In fact, she’s pretty much the only one in Lizzie’s family to let Lizzie do her own thing and encourage her to not come back home.
Overall, I really loved this book (especially when Lizzie and a certain someone get together and kiss. For the sake of prospective readers, I will not tell who this special someone is) and cannot wait to read the sequel! 🙂
Queen of Babble: A Novel. Meg Cabot. 309 pp. 2007.