Stars in the eyes...

Stars in the eyes...

Shopaholic to the Stars
Sophie Kinsella
Transworld
2014, pp 368
509
 What’s more important — a believable plot with an iffy narration, or a ridiculous tale well told? If you’re in it only for the ride, the latter wins, of course, and by quite a margin. What we’re trying to say is: don’t pick this one up if you want intellectual stimulation.

An unlikeable main character and a ludicrous plot ought to make Shopaholic to the Stars an eminently miss-able read. But, as the seventh in an otherwise successful series, it would be unfair to dismiss it offhand. Add to that the fact that Sophie Kinsella (a pseudonym of Madeleine Wickham) is an entertaining storyteller, and suddenly it becomes somewhat tricky to judge this book completely on its own merits — or lack thereof.

In this new addition to Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, we meet Rebecca ‘Becky’ Brandon once again, and she seems to be at her self-centred, empty-headed best, with a decidedly iffy grip on reality. This time, the setting moves out of England and into the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Becky’s husband Luke has a new job managing the erratic movie star Sage Seymour, which facilitates the move to the US, much to Becky’s delight. According to her, she’s just one step away from hobnobbing with celebrities, walking the red carpet, being mobbed by photographers... in short, joyfully suffering all the trials and tribulations of being an A-lister.

And, make no mistake, Becky has Plans (with a capital P). She isn’t intending to sit around and soak in the LA sun. In fact, she has dreams of a new career — she is going to be a celebrity stylist. And the first step to getting a toe into Tinseltown, she decides, is to sign up for a 10-mile run with Sage Seymour’s team when a last-minute vacancy opens up. The only slight, teeny-weeny hitch is that Becky wouldn’t know the business end of a running shoe from a starter pistol. No biggie, for all she needs to do is sidle up to Sage, start a conversation about clothes, and thereby kickstart her styling career.

Of course, nothing goes as planned. To cut an absurd story short, Becky proves to be singularly idiotic and self-obsessed, to the point that she comes close to losing her husband and her best friend. The same slightly less shallow and empty-headed best friend, Suze Cleath-Stuart, wife of an English lord, who has been her companion over the series. An irrelevant story arc about Becky’s friend, the designer Danny Kovitz, is interspersed in the narration for some unspecified reason.

Some chapters are also preceded by replies to various (presumably) idiotic letters and emails that Becky has written. This could have been an interesting aside if they hadn’t been quite so inane. The only interesting part is the mystery of Becky’s father’s old friend, Brent Lewis, but it gets disappointingly little screen time. Altogether, characters — and even places — are stereotyped, and the plot, contrived and unconvincing.

It is difficult to argue with a success — and the Shopaholic series certainly appears to be one. The first two books have been made into a Hollywood movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009), and of course, the books have sold millions. While readers of the series will be acquainted with Becky’s story and more invested in her journey, as a first time reader, Becky and her world view were — to put it bluntly — quite repulsive.
Shallow, selfish and superficial, with no concept of the value of money, Becky doesn’t appear to think beyond fashion labels and she justifies her spending sprees by calling them ‘investments’. (It is not specified who pays her credit card bill!) She ends up being a caricaturised air-head and a personification of some of the worst stereotypes attributed to women. Most of the times her motivations are alarmingly ridiculous and simplistic.

The fact that the earlier books in the series have been successes is mostly an alarming indictment of us, readers, in general. It is hard to digest that a vapid shopaholic who is irresponsible, deceitful and stupid could have been a character that readers might have identified with. It is also disturbing that being a ‘shopaholic’ is a matter that is flippantly dismissed or even glamorised. It embodies the worst of our greedy capitalist culture that worships ‘wanting’ and ‘having’, yet without knowing the difference between what you actually want and what you feel you should want.

Unfortunately, the book ends in a cliffhanger, which means there will be a book eight to suffer the ridiculous Becky Brandon through. However, the only thing that carries the story through is that Kinsella is a good writer and the humour is quite delectable in places. Followers of the series will likely want to pick Shopaholic to the Stars up, but it is definitely not the right book to start your Shopaholic journey.

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