Commentary: “My (Not So) Perfect Life” by Sophie Kinsella

PerfectFull disclosure: I only sometimes like Sophie Kinsella’s books. I liked Confessions of a Shopaholic, but I loved Can You Keep a Secret?, which was uproariously funny and charming. Confessions, though, was less charming, mainly because of the main character Becky Bloomwood, who often works against her own self-interest, but entertaining, mainly because she rarely lies to herself; she knows what she’s doing is problematic and she recognizes her flaws while dodging her creditors. She lies to almost everyone else, but rarely to herself.

My (Not So) Perfect Life has another problematic character in Katie Brenner, a country girl who lives in London and has just started her career at the bottom at a marketing firm. She lies to everyone, too, courtesy of her fake life that she projects on Instagram. But she doesn’t merely project her lies through Instagram. She lies to everyone for various justifications that she gives ad nauseam: she lies to her friend Fiona because Fiona’s life seems perfect in New York, she lies to her father and her stepmother because she doesn’t want them to be hurt or indignant on her behalf, she lies to people at work about the places she’s been to impress them, but most of all, she lies to herself about who she really is.

Kinsella seems to want us to be more sympathetic to Katie because she’s obviously struggling with her identity. But it doesn’t work. Katie is just as petty and selfish and deluded than even the eventual villains within the story. Her character is not nice, although I think we’re supposed to think she is. Her constant state of envy of those with “perfect” lives becomes an obsession. She is even jealous of a girl who lives with her parents, albeit the girl lives in her fabulous parents’ mansion. But, seriously, the girl wheedles money from her parents instead of relying on herself. Like a CHILD. And Katie is still JEALOUS of the girl’s entitlement instead of PROUD that she doesn’t have to debase herself like that.

In fact, Katie is often embarrassed by all the things of which she should be proud, like supporting herself in a tough city, knowing her budgetary limits and not going overboard (like Becky), and being smart, although insecure. But she’s only 26. What 26-year-old isn’t insecure, especially about her job? Oh, and there’s the job. It’s a crappy research associate position, but she seems to think that after seven months there, she should have been moving up the corporate ladder already.

And there is the fact that she mentions over and over that she’s going to focus on the positive, but this too is a lie. She never does. She only focuses on her bitterness and jealousy, making her totally unlikeable and not the sweet country girl I get the impression Kinsella is trying to create. We’re also supposed to see her as clever and under-appreciated for her talent. But she’s not clever; she a little mean and revenge-y, executing the second meanest revenge plot in the book all because she jumps to the wrong conclusions and reads situations wrong ALL THE TIME. And we’re supposed to forgive her for it.

Full disclosure: (I’m using this phrase because Katie uses it in almost every chapter right after she’s told us a lie, forcing the reader to understand that she lies to us, too. I think Kinsella is trying to create a trust bond between Katie and the reader because Katie eventually tells us the truth after this phrase. So noble!) Her obsessions are RIDICULOUS. First, there’s her obsession with everyone who has anything better than she does (that’s everyone, btw). Then, there’s her obsession with Alex, one of her younger bosses on whom she fixates after one encounter. After four encounters, and none of these a date, I came to the conclusion that she was in love with him, even though she tells us and herself that she isn’t. I told you: she lies to herself and to us, too.

Kinsella tells us there is a reason for all of her lies; Katie had overheard former co-workers making fun of her country accent. Because they laugh at her, I think we are supposed to think she’s justified for lying constantly, but I think this is one of those times where we can pull in T.S. Eliot’s objective correlative—the reason or motivation just doesn’t match the actions that follow.

Even after all of this, though, I found myself unable to put Katie’s story down. I really wanted to know how her train wreck of various lies would end up. HINT and SPOILER: Repercussions are almost nonexistent for her MANY lies. I mean, this is a romantic comedy. You can see where it’s going from about chapter three or four, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see where it landed. So, despite the fact that Katie as a character is what I would call uneven, I finished the book and was entertained, even though mostly I was entertained by either laughing at the absurdities of Katie’s stupidity and eventual dumb luck or railing at Katie that she and real life needed an introduction.

So, would I suggest buying My (Not So) Perfect Life? No way, but if you like Kinsella’s stories in general, I would definitely suggest reserving it from the library. Personally, I got it for free for signing up with Audible, so Yay! that I didn’t waste the money.

That’s all for now, my lovelies. Sorry for the harshness. But full disclosure: It wasn’t a stellar read, but was entertaining on my drive to and from NOLA. So that’s something, I guess.

Ta-ta for now, my dears!

HMichaele