My mother (who has excellent taste in almost everything else) finds fantasy and science fiction absolutely uninteresting. On more than one occasion, she has asked me why I enjoy such “unrealistic” stories. I usually babble something about liking the world-building aspect of “speculative fiction” or the beauty of Patrick Rothfuss’s prose and how the human relationships are still believable in good sci-fi and fantasy. But the next time this comes up, I plan to adapt a phrase from another book blogger and say, “well, I have yet to read a fantasy novel that’s as unrealistic as Confessions of a Shopaholic.”
Now, before you accuse me of being a snob who can’t enjoy some fun light fiction, let me tell you that I actually love light reading. I’ve read every novel Jennifer Crusie has ever written, including the ones that were first published by Harlequin.* Sometimes you just need to kill time on an airplane or escape reality for a few hours. If a book has witty prose, a coherent and semi-believable plot, and likable characters, I’m a pretty happy reader.
But Confessions of a Shopaholic fell short on two of my three criteria for enjoying fluffy fiction: the believable plot and the likable characters. You probably already know the plot: London journalist Becky Bloomwood hates her job as a finance writer (get it? Her finances are a mess even though she’s a finance writer! Hilarious!) but can’t exactly quit. Why? Because Becky has serious credit card debt due to her love of shopping.
The novel is meant to be a slightly over-the-top comedy, and I have to admit that it occasionally succeeded at making me laugh. We follow Becky going through one scheme after another to save money and/or try to get herself out of debt. My favorite sequence involved Becky trying to save money by going out to eat less — which ends in her buying some incredibly exotic cooking equipment and ingredients to make her own curry at home. But I mostly found the novel repetitive. Becky tries to save money, but then instead she spends more. So she thinks of a new way to get out of debt, but that leads her to spend even more money! Rise, repeat.
All of that repetition made Becky seem, well, pretty stupid. I found it hard to root for someone who seemed unwilling to learn any lessons for 3/4 of a fairly long novel. It’s sort of like being asked to root for someone who keeps walking into a wall, all the while insisting that it’s bound to turn into a door sooner or later. None of the supporting characters are very interesting either, including Becky’s love interest Luke.
Finally, the ridiculous way Becky’s money problems get resolved had me gaping in shock and horror. I won’t totally spoil the ending, but I will say this: if the final chapters had involved Becky defeating a dragon and stealing his treasure to pay off her bills, I would have found them more realistic than the actual conclusion of the book.
Rating: YMMV — the prose is well-written and it’s an easy read, so it’s possible you will enjoy it more than I did.
* If you’re having a bad day and want to escape into a world of nicer people and pineapple-orange muffins, I strongly suggest getting your hands on a copy of Crusie’s Faking It.