I was browsing the shelves of the library last week, searching for the sequel to Sophie Kinsella’s bestselling novel Confessions of a Shopaholic, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan. My face fell when I saw it was not on the shelves, but then I wasn’t going to lose hope, and instead spotted a green book with a young woman and the words “My (Not-So) Perfect Life” written diagonally. I wondered if it was part of a series, and then found out it stood on its own, so I wouldn’t have to read anything before it, so I checked it out. After watching so many dramas and reading dramas, I needed to take a break and read some funny stuff.
I devoured the book in less than a few days. Sophie Kinsella continues to amaze me with her plot twists, her witty characters and her sheer talent for writing. This may sound weird, but it kind of reminded me of a novel version of The Financial Diet. The Financial Diet is a blog where people share about their personal finance experiences, such as how they lived in a big city on a budget, paid off their student debt, changed careers, or found great deals on flights and travel. The blog also has a lot of stories about comparing ourselves to others and the use of social media and its effects on our happiness. However, there are also posts about a healthy use of social media such as Chelsea Fagan’s post on using Instagram positively.
This book is about a young woman named Katie Brenner who is trying to start her career at a marketing agency in London. She expects her life to be better than in her hometown in the countryside of England, and even changes her name to Cat so people will treat her like a serious city person, but she gets a reality check. Her roommates are terrible, her job pays little and is quite boring, she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Some of her colleagues also makes fun of her accent and her countryside roots. In short, Katie’s life is less than perfect.
Her boss, Demeter, on the other hand, seems cool as a cucumber (I kept imagining Demeter as Amy’s boss Dianna, played by Tilda Swinton, in the film Trainwreck). Demeter seems to have the perfect life: a husband, two children, a nice home, a nice life, and a top position at her job. However, at work she is controlling, berating her employees and putting so many demands on them that her entire staff loses respect for her. One day, without warning, she lets Katie go and Katie moves back to her family’s farm in Somerset. Even though she doesn’t want to be at home, she helps her dad and his girlfriend, Biddy, with their glamping business. Soon the glamping business takes off, and Dad, Katie and Biddy get new customers. However, when Demeter ends up visiting Somerset to glamp with her family, Katie must keep her cover so she doesn’t let her dad and Biddy know that Demeter fired her. Katie plots a revenge plan to get back at Demeter for firing her, but eventually sees that Demeter is less perfect than she thought.
This book taught me a lot of things. First and foremost, it taught me the importance of being my own person and not comparing myself to others. Katie spends most of her time in London looking at other people’s lives and assuming that she is the only person who doesn’t have it all together. Instead of deciding to be herself, she thinks that she has to post only good stuff on her Instagram in order to not let her friends know that she isn’t having a great time in London. Her friends post their positive moments, but rarely if ever post whether they’ve had a bad day. However, later in the book, we find out that most of these people in Katie’s peer group, despite moving to these luxurious places, still have problems like every other human being on the planet. While it’s important sometimes to “fake it til you make it” in order to do your best work, social media and the Internet in general has made it easier for us to compare ourselves to each other and seek happiness outside of ourselves in things that, in the end, don’t last long. Social media can be great for a lot of things, but I have noticed that after celebrating my 1-year anniversary of not having a Facebook account, I don’t miss it at all and have come to embrace myself without trying to keep in contact with everyone. Instead of deleting her Instagram, Katie starts a hashtag where people can post imperfect photos of their lives, such as a crowded subway platform, soaked hair, and other things that people deem failures.
This book also taught me to never forget your roots. Wherever I move, I cannot forget who I am and where I come from. As a musician, even if I do make it to Carnegie Hall and other prestigious places, I want to stay grounded and not let my ego get in the way of letting me be myself. Katie tries to leave behind her identity as a young woman growing up in Somerset with her father, but when she moves back home she gets back in touch with her roots. There’s this idea that to be an adult, you need to enjoy things that we typically consider to be for adults, such as going to the bar every evening, dining out, having the dream job. But trying to be someone besides herself ends up draining Katie, and she comes back acting like Demeter towards Dad and Biddy until she realizes how much she has let Demeter’s controlling demeanor influence how she acts towards others.
Although I must say… like Confessions of a Shopaholic, this book felt like a movie. I awwwwed at the sad scenes and whenever Katie spoke up for herself and even won back Alex, her coworker she was crushing on who Katie thought was having an affair with Demeter, I snapped my fingers and kept saying, “You go girl!”, “Amen!” or “Yasssss, slay queen!” In one scene, Katie overhears Demeter trying to engage her two spoiled children in conversation while they are glued to their phones. She observes that Demeter feels lonely and broken inside even though it looks like she has the perfect family, and her kids don’t respect her or show any appreciation towards her. So Katie, when Demeter is gone, calls the two kids out, in the calmest way, for not appreciating everything their mom has done for them, telling them that her (Katie’s) mom died when she was young, so she wasn’t able to spend time with her mom, unlike Demeter’s kids. When the kids hear this, it seems as if they ignore her, but then later Coco, Demeter’s daughter, briefly looks up from her phone and thanks Demeter for taking them on the glamping trip. This scene taught me that if we want to make it anywhere in life, we need to have a deep sense of gratitude.
This novel also taught me that everyone has their own definition of perfect. This blog post isn’t going to be perfect. None of my blog posts are perfect. My music playing isn’t always perfect. But to someone else they may be the thing they need to get through the day. I do think it’s important to work on improving yourself every day, but I try not to be a perfectionist anymore because I don’t have time to keep worrying about whether people will like me or not. Life is messy sometimes, and to get through life and your day to day means embracing the messiness. This book was awesome and so relevant to this day and age. Thank you once again, Sophie Kinsella.
My (Not-So) Perfect Life: A Novel: Sophie Kinsella. 438 pp. 2017.