As far as I know, I have read one or two of Sophie Kinsella's books before, and while I found them mildly entertaining, they did not leave a lasting impression with me, and one I remember as having found downright daft. "The Undomestic Goddess", though, I really enjoyed - it is one of those books so readily classified as typical "Chick Lit", but it's all in there: romance, comedy, mystery, and even some good advice on life in general, advice that can be heeded or ignored.
Samantha Sweetings is a high-powered city lawyer in London, coming from a family with similarly high-powered jobs, where career is everything, and even one's own daughter's birthday takes a back seat when work calls. Samantha has dedicated all her adult life to becoming partner in the most distinguished London law firm, practically living in her office and being available for work 24/7, and finally, partnership is offered to her - she is not yet 30, and it seems that she has already reached her ultimate goal in life. Could life get any better?
Well, it could. And it does.
But first, Samantha hits rock bottom: She makes a mistake that costs a client 50 million and wrecks her career. The shock of discovering her own mistake ("I never make mistakes!") is so big that she simply walks out of her office and gets on the next train she happens to catch, without knowing where it will take her or what to do next.
She ends up in a picturesque village in the Cotswolds, and when she comes to her senses and wants to ask for directions at a big, beautiful house, the owners mistake her for an applicant as their new housekeeper. She is offered the job, and everything happens to fast and she is still so much in turmoil that she accepts.
Nothing in her life has prepared her for this - an IQ of 158 and three law degrees from Cambridge do not mean one can cook, organize dinner parties or even know how to make a bed properly or to operate a washing machine, let alone an iron.
Samantha gets unexpected help, though, and her new employers do not guess the truth... until things happen that make Samantha suspect she did not, in fact, make that fateful mistake the day she walked out of her office.
A highly unlikely scenario is described in a way that makes it almost credible; the characters are real enough, and the settings depicted so colourful you can imagine them very well.
Many bits are quite foreseeable - the love interest, what she finds out about her mistake -, but there are some surprises as well. Some of the comical scenes made me almost laugh out loud while I was reading the book on the train yesterday afternoon, and here are a few examples:
When Samantha is first shown the kitchen of the house where she is supposed to work as a housekeeper, the owners tell her she can rearrange all the devices and appliances to her own liking. She has no idea what most of the shiny equipment is for, but of course has to pretend she knows exactly what she is doing. So she says,
"Absolutely," I say in a businesslike way. "Obviously I have my own... um... systems. That shouldn't be there, for example." I point randomly at some gadget. "I'll have to move it.""Really?" Trish [her new employer] looks fascinated. "Why's that?"There's a momentary beat of silence. Even Eddie [Trish's husband] looks interested."Kitchen... ergonomic... theory," I improvise. "So, you'd like toast for breakfast?" I add quickly.
Not very long after she has met the man who - foreseeably - turns out to become her love interest, Samantha wonders how she should go about letting him know that she fancies him:
Now to the body language. I wrinkle up my forehead, trying to remember the rules from TV. If a woman is attracted to a man, her pupils will dilate. Also, she will unconsciously lean forward, laugh at his jokes and expose her wrists and palms.Experimentally I lean towards my reflection, holding out my hands as I do so.I look like Jesus.I'll try adding a flirty laugh. "Ha ha ha!" I exclaim aloud. "You just crack me up!"Now I look like a cheerful Jesus.
In the last quarter of the book, Samantha gets back in touch with people from her former work, and one of the law firm's partners tell her that she has indeed been wronged:
I gape at him in stupefaction. He's admitting it? Getting a lawyer to admit they've made a mistake is like getting a movie star to admit they've had liposuction.
In places, I found the book to be a bit too fast-paced (how things are developing between her and Mr. Love Interest, for instance, and how she seems to have learnt almost everything there is to learn about cooking in one single weekend), and not everything is always logical or consistent, but that does not take away from the entertaining value of this book.I recommend it to anyone who wants a good laugh that is neither too vulgar nor too shallow, but light enough for a good relaxing read.