Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review - Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
Published by: Dial Press Trade Paperback
Publication Date: April 25th, 2006
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Samantha Sweeting is on track to be the newest and youngest partner at the law firm of Carter Spink. She's given everything since she was twelve to keep on track with this path for her life and she's about to succeed. On the day of the big partnership announcement in the clutter of her desk she finds something that could ruin everything. Instead of doing the right thing she just walks away. She ends up on a train and gets off in the middle of the country not even knowing where she is. Drunk, tired, and delusional, she stumbles into the house of Trish and Eddie Geiger where they are holding interviews for a new domestic. At first Samantha doesn't realize what is going on and just goes alone with their assumption, but when she realizes that this is a job interview, one that isn't going well, well her need to succeed rears it's ugly head and she ends up getting the job as the Geiger's housekeeper.

Samantha, a girl who doesn't clean, doesn't know how to cook, can't even find out how to turn on her own oven, has just taken a job where she knows nothing and where in a week she is not even making her hourly rate at Carter Spink. If it wasn't for the gorgeous gardener Nathaniel and his mother helping Samantaha out she doesn't know what she would do. But Samantha is smart, some might say a genius, and it doesn't take her long to conquer this new world she's run away to. When her old world comes knocking will she want to stay in this new happy and peaceful life she's stumbled into or go back to the career track that has been her lifelong goal. She knows which one her mother and colleagues want her to choose.

While being a fan of the chick lit genre there was a part of me that never really bothered to seek out new authors. I preferred to have new books and authors to come to me as if by osmosis. Some sort of magical power whereby they caught my eye and bam, instant attraction... now that I think of this, there's some disturbing parallels to my love life... so now's the perfect time to mention Hugh Dancy. I have been in love with Hugh Dancy for over a decade now ever since Daniel Deronda. Because of this love I have seen a plethora of bad movies, the top three being Ella Enchanted, Arthur, and Elizabeth I, with Elizabeth I taking the crown for horridness. My love for him meant that I was intrigued by this movie he was going to be in called Confessions of a Shopaholic. Upon seeing that it was based on a book, away to Barnes and Noble I went, picking up the tie-in edition, which sadly didn't have Hugh on the cover... seriously, know your audience publishers!

I enjoyed Confessions of a Shopaholic enough to pick up the next few books in the series and a few of Kinsella's other books published under her real name, Madeleine Wickham, as well as her Kinsella pen name. I was never really blown away by her writing and as the Shopaholic series continued I became more and more angry with Becky Bloomwood and her never changing consumption habits. You'd think after six books she'd mature a little, but no. Every big revelation at the end of one of the books is followed by a quick slid into old habits by the start of the next. This lead to me not picking up any of the other Kinsella books I had lying around the house. One of the reasons I decided to do a Chick Lit themed month on my blog was so that I would finally pick up books I had bought that were creating a large backlog to my "to be read" pile. So I finally pick up The Undomestic Goddess. I should have never judged Kinsella on Becky Bloomwood! She created such a wonderful, relateable, fresh, and funny heroine in Samantha Sweeting, that I forgive that other alliterative heroine of hers for her flaws. Kinsella has been wrongly judged by me and I admit that perhaps Kinsella just doesn't excel in series and that stand-alones is where she shines. This book shone and made a bleak weekend fun.

I connected to Samantha on so many levels, but what really got me was her work ethic. Samantha's work ethic is 100% 24/7. There is no give, there is no outside life, there is the job, and only the job. Samantha is lucky in that until the events that unfold in the book she has never had a crash or come down. We live in a culture where to succeed means that you work too hard, you are literally willing to kill yourself to make it to the top. There is quite literally no off switch, no balance, no break. This is so me it's kind of scary. I'm the person who believes that doing anything less then the best you can do is unacceptable. There is nothing below first place, which will preferably leave those in second and third in the dust. In downtime between classes while in school I'd compare anti anxiety meds and stress induced ticks with fellow sufferers. If I was working on a job I'd work 24/7 until it was done. What is 9-5, that is absurd, there are so many hours in the day that are being unutilised with this way of thinking. But as Samantha comes to learn, this isn't a life.

I've had a harder time teaching myself this as well. It wasn't a mistake that flipped my switch off but my own body betrayed me. First there were some rashes, hive like bug bites, then I had a "lovely" nervous tick in my eye, seriously, don't discount how annoying these are till you have one. If I pushed myself too far on a project my body took to giving me a lovely cold after I was done because my body was so wrung out, and in one memorable case pneumonia. I have forced myself to change. I refuse to work on the weekends, where previously I didn't believe they even existed, just call me the Dowager Countess of Grantham. I try to spend more time with friends and have a book club. I have changed. Yes, I do backslide a little, but I have not backslide in Becky Bloomwood style. And from now on, Samanatha Sweeting is my role model for finding that balance in my life. As much as I hate the phrase, she found her bliss.

One of the things I kept thinking about as I was reading this book was how would this look from a women's lib standpoint. A high profile career woman basically goes back to the kitchen. Even if at first she doesn't know what to do in that kitchen, the fact that she's basically going from breadwinner to homemaker is a big change and could be construed as a step backwards. I like that when Samantha's secret comes out that the newspaper reporters who are hounding her bring up this exact argument, making me glad Sophie Kinsella was obviously aware of this statement she was making or, as I like to think, subverting. Yes, you could say this is all retro thinking, but think of the genre we are in. Chick Lit is a genre that is a touchstone for today's women. This genre gives us a mirror to our lives while also incorporating an element of wish fulfillment. Who wouldn't want to leave the stress behind and find themselves a nice gardener? But there's an empowering message in Chick Lit as well, it shows women working out the problems of their lives, it shows women, flaws and all. So I look at Samantha and don't see a women stepping into the role her female ancestors would have accepted as their lot in life, I see Samantha choosing the life that's right for her. Women can be whatever they want to be, a partner in a law firm, a housekeeper, a mother, the possibilities are endless, and Samantha has made her choice and I hope I've chosen as wisely as her.


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