|February 5, 2018||Posted by admin under Fiction, Humour, Romance, Women|
Written by Sophie Kinsella
Published by Penguin Random House Canada
Reviewed by Christine Gordon Manley
Publication date: February 2018
Review posted on: February 5, 2018
It’s February. And while retail stores are plastered in pink and red hearts and other visual reminders of the updating Valentine’s Day holiday, it’s not really love that this Canadian feels so much this time of the year.
It’s winter. And I’m cold.
For me, February means sweaters. And more sweaters. And fires (the safe kind, inside plated glass and all). And blankets. And long johns. And thick socks—the kind you can’t even fit into boots. And hot drinks and…well you get the point.
I’m cold in February and looking for warmth.
And Sophie Kinsella, like a trusted quilt, reliably provides. I can count on Sophie (a.k.a Madeline Sophie Wickham) to raise my spirits, and who doesn’t need that in February? (Okay, maybe those of you living in warmer climates may not, but I very much do.)
I typically will reach for a Kinsella book in between heavier reads. A pallet cleanser, if you will. I expect to laugh, to giggle, to perhaps roll my eyes at some of the naivety of her characters…I don’t actually expect to be wowed, but I do expect to be entertained. For Kinsella is a good storyteller and she knows how to entertain.
Her latest, Surprise Me, actually did surprise me though—while I did have all my usual Kinsella-esque responses (laughs, giggles, eye rolls, etc.), I also found a deeper message that hit a little close to home for this reviewer.
The story revolves around Sylvie and her husband Dan. They’ve been married around seven years, have five-year-old twin girls, a house in a great neighbourhood, good jobs…you know, the works, right? The first chapter paints them as a very in sync couple, with Sylvie (the narrator of the story) gushing over how synchronous they are, finishing each other’s sentences and knowing what the other will order at a restaurant. It’s a bit nauseating, truth be told, and I was relieved when they experience a bit of a wrench thrown into their quote unquote perfect marriage.
At a routine physical, the couple learns that they’re in great health and to expect to be together for 68 (give or take) more years. Instead of being happy at the news, though, the couple begins to panic, wondering how they’ll fill 68 more years. How they’ll make 68 more years of breakfasts exciting or how they’re going to work until their 90s in order to afford to live that long. At one point, Dan even mentions how many more times they’ll likely have sex.
Things start to go sideways, and to bring a bit of excitement into their marriage, Sylvie suggests they start surprising each other, and so begins a back-and-forth game wherein each spouse attempts to surprise the other. A great thing to do in theory, but, as you can imagine, not all surprises are well received (um, there may have been a snake involved in one—I won’t tell you which one, no spoilers here—which made me simultaneously gag and throw the book across the sofa…perhaps I have a slight snake phobia).
What starts out as a bit of innocent fun, however, quickly takes a turn when Sylvie starts suspecting that Dan is keeping big secrets from her. Secrets that have nothing to do with their surprise game. Secrets that she is determined to uncover. Secrets that threaten their marriage.
I won’t really say much more than that, for fear of giving anything away, but I will say that while I suspected something was up with Sylvie’s family early on, what turns out to be the actual truth did surprise me. I knew her fairy-tale upbringing was likely exaggerated, but the specific details eluded me right up until the truth does come out.
One of the subplots that I especially enjoyed dealt with Sylvie’s career. She works at a charity museum, a setting that had my former history grad student self giddy, with an adorable, yet quirky boss who you can’t help but fall in love with. Sylvie’s boss isn’t the only memorable character in this book, either, as Kinsella is excellent at creating strong characters. From the hilarious antics of the close friend slash next door neighbour and her adult (but still living at home) son to the retired professor with ever-present sad eyes, Kinsella creates a round of supporting characters that are unique and just as interesting as the main characters themselves.
As with previous Kinsella books, there is a good message underneath what could appear to be an entertaining, light story. This reviewer has been married almost thirteen years, and marriage, as stated several times in this book and what any married couple will echo, is not always easy. Heck, it’s rarely easy. It does take work, and while many of the surprises end up having some humour attached, due to poor judgement, ill timings, and general bafflement, I did take to heart how Sylvie and Dan still remain committed to each other enough to want to add a bit of spice into an otherwise predicable relationship.
And while it may not be necessary to go to the same length as the characters in this book do, a little surprise every now and then might be just what the marriage counsellor ordered.
(But, honey, if you’re reading this: never ever bring a snake into our home. Ever. Or I will pack my bags and leave in a heartbeat. Actually, I won’t even pack my bags—I’ll send for those later, after I’ve put a good 10 km of space between myself and the snake.)
This book hits the shelves this month, right before Valentine’s Day, I believe. So, whether you’re celebrating the love holiday or just wanting to hibernate this month, Kinsella’s Surprise Me is the perfect companion. This book pairs excellently with a glass of wine and some chocolates or, as was this case with this reviewer, a thick quilt, a warm dog, and a hot cuppa.
Indulge. And perhaps you’ll be surprised, too.
For more information about this book or to learn how to get your very own copy, visit the publisher’s website here.