Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job, and a super-cool Instagram feed.
OK, so the truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers. But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they? When her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack, all Katie’s hopes are shattered. She has to move home to Somerset, where she helps her dad with his new glamping business. When opportunity strikes, should she get revenge on the woman who ruined her dreams – or try to get her job back? Does Demeter – the woman who has everything – actually have such an idyllic life herself? Maybe they have more in common than it seems. And what’s wrong with not-so-perfect, anyway?
I quite agree. Kinsella’s novel is timely and entertaining; it paints a painfully accurate depiction of a commuter’s life, and tackles the duality at the heart of all our lives now that social media has exploded onto the scene.
This novel explores what it’s like to be young and have dreams about the perfect life with the perfect job and the perfect social life, and it does all this in a very self-deprecating way. In tone, it’s very much the intimate, conversational style of a diary, confessing those cringe-worthy embarrassing moments and funny anecdotes that make this feel very much like a chic-flick. The reader follows Katie on a journey of self-discovery and the ultimate wake-up call. Amid all the comical moments and career ups and downs, we get a real look at how social media has come to affect the way we live our lives. Katie spends most of the novel being envious of Demeter and hoping she can someday be just as successful and just as fashionable, when in reality, Demeter’s façade is just as constructed as Katie’s. They both paint a picture of what they want their lives to look like to outsiders via their Instagram pages and live completely different lives in reality. I think Kinsella does a good job of breaking down that ‘fifth wall’ and tearing away all the pretence toward the end of the book, suggesting that it’s more than okay to live a ‘not-so-perfect’ life because, in reality, everyone’s doing that.
Another thing I think Kinsella does a very good job of highlighting is the reality of unemployment for young people. It speaks volumes when she writes, ‘I’ve had three jobs in my life (OK, two were internships)’. She perfectly encapsulates that time in life when you’re young and idealistic and you have so much enthusiasm and belief that everything will go your way, and then it just – doesn’t. Katie realises the real world just isn’t that easy, and gives us a glimpse into the real hopelessness that comes with unemployment. She describes the way her heart soars every time the phone rings or you get an email, and then the despair that follows yet another rejection and the fear that you’ll never find another job. And alongside all of that, when Katie finally gets a job that she actually wants with plans to climb her way up from the bottom, she has to deal with the guilt of leaving home and leaving her family behind. As the narrative develops, Kinsella builds this very strong sense of the country versus the city, and a split loyalty toward both. This is one of Katie’s biggest struggles in the book because at heart she is very much the city girl, but also feels that she’s outgrown those boundaries and needs to find her own way in the city. This pull is often seen in a lot of fiction: the temptation of the city to provide possibilities and opportunities, and I like that Kinsella explores this in a way that suggests that you can have the best of both worlds. Katie still feels a very strong sense of responsibility for being home and staying in touch with her roots, but she also welcomes the challenge of chasing a career in one of the most competitive cities in the world. She’s not afraid to make her own way and chase a life that is undoubtedly going to prove the most taxing. I admire that she pursues a life which scares and tests her, because it ultimately makes her a stronger and more resilient – and a happier – person.
I think there’s also a criticism in this novel for the way junior members of staff are so often underestimated and undervalued because of their lack of experience. In an ironic turn of events, Demeter looks at Katie’s work in detail, not recognising whose work she is really looking at, and admits that she wishes her junior staff were that talented. It turns out Katie was that talented all along, she just wasn’t given the opportunity to show them because her employers didn’t take the time to nurture her talent. And rather than having a background of jobs to recommend her in interviews, she has internships because employers were unwilling to give her work without experience. This is a very real issue that we’re still seeing in society today, and Kinsella weaves it seamlessly into her chatty narrative, drawing attention to social issues in a way that is both entertaining and impactful.
As much as I like a good romantic story, and as much as this book provides readers with everything they might want out of a chick flick, I think the story would have been strong enough without it. The romance element did add another element to the narrative, but I found it slightly cheesy and predictable in parts, and found myself wanting to read more about Katie’s career and the rapport she ends up building with Demeter. I’m a big believer in female championing, and I think we could have seen even more of that, but still an enjoyable read!
December Book Review: The Becoming of Noah Shaw by Michelle Hodkin