“Shopaholic Takes Manhattan” by Sophie Kinsella

I’d heard about the Shopaholic series for years before finally taking the plunge when I came across the first book on sale recently. As I thought might happen, I was completely captivated.

There are a lot of criticisms one could make of the Shopaholic series (I’m now on book 5 as I write this review of book 2), but I think that a lot of such criticism fails to understand the genre of “chick lit” (about which I, a newly fledged expert, am now going to expound 🙂 ). Yes, Becky is a bit–well, a lot–of a materialistic airhead and I wouldn’t *actually* want to be her friend or, God forbid, her significant other, but, that’s not really a good criterion for judging a work of fiction. I mean, I just read a piece of highly regarded “Celtic noir” about a former IRA hitman who goes on a killing spree, and I wouldn’t want to be HIS friend/significant other either. That’s not how fiction works! You read about people who make choices you might not make in real life, not about sensible people who carefully follow their budgets and savings plans and never, for example, snap and start shooting people because of the voices in their heads…

OK, deep breaths. Let’s just assume that a lot of the criticism of the Shopaholic series, which is what we’re interested in here, has a sexist/misogynist motivation, even if the criticisers are not consciously aware of this fact, and move on from there. Which means we’re going to rethink our critiquing paradigm a bit if we want to do a proper job here, and assume that something this successful is probably not just airhead-ery.

So what can we say about “Shopaholic Takes Manhattan”? Becky is invited by her boyfriend Luke to come with him to Manhattan, where he’s trying to expand his business. She immediately falls in love with the shopping, the TV offers that are coming her way, the shopping, the shopping, the shopping…until everything goes pear-shaped, of course, because she’s not only a dreamer with only a tenuous grasp on the harsher aspects of reality, she’s also still an addict and she can’t get her addiction under control.

The basic situation is familiar from the previous book (something that will continue in later books in the series as well), but Kinsella drops clues and builds the tension like a mystery writer. The narrative style is the unselfconscious-yet-ironic stream-of-consciousness that is typical for “chick lit,” and that seems to be so poorly understood by readers who are not fans of the genre. Yes, dear reader, we and the author are both supposed to recognize how ridiculous the situations are, and on a certain level, so does the character, but she still presents it as if it’s totally reasonable. Which is where the humor comes in. It turns out women DO have a sense of humor, it just appears in the form of laughing at yourself and seeing things through two lenses at once.

Anyway. I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say as I review the next books in the series, but in the meantime, if you’re looking for a hilarious and absorbing read, you couldn’t do better than this book and this series.

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