In this review, Natasha Godbold is finding out the true meaning of the word “surprise” through Sophie Kinsella’s latest novel, Surprise Me.
Surprise Me – only in the right way! I’m sure there are many of us who are not particularly fond of surprises in real life. But when it comes to books, it’s a whole different story. In fact, surprises are simply essential for a good plot. You can even go as far as to say that they “make” a book.
A generous dose of surprises mixed with a healthy helping of humour and sprinkled all over with beautiful thoughts, fascinating ideas and amazing quotes is what you get in the latest book from Sophie Kinsella – Surprise Me. In this particular case, you can and should judge the book by its cover. Surprise you it will!
The moment you open the book and start reading, you are hooked. The author intrigues you from the very first page and keeps you guessing all the way through to the end.
The Lead characters
The main characters of the book are a delightful young couple – Sylvie and Dan –who, complete with adorable twin little daughters, seem to have a kind of a “Hallmark family”, perfect in every way. They have been together for 10 years and know each other so well, they can read each other’s thoughts and finish each other’s sentences with ease, or so they thought…
How well do we really know somebody? Even people closest to us. Can we really know a person “inside out”? Just when familiarity sets in, we start to get bored and take our guard down, that’s when they might catch us out or… surprise us. At the end of the day, we can even surprise ourselves at times and do or say things we could never imagine we would.
The two characters in the book that provide the voice of reason and priceless nuggets of wisdom in Dan and Sylvie’s stormy lives are the couple’s next-door neighbours: Sylvie’s best friend, Tilda, and Professor John Russel.
Reflecting on the matter of really knowing someone while talking about the plants he studied for most of his life, John proffers a beautiful analogy: “These wonders will never reveal all their secrets… Every time I look at them I learn a little more. Tiny miracles. Much like people.”
And before Sylvie decides to set “Project Surprise” in motion, Tilda warns her: “Surprises have a bad habit of going wrong. This won’t end well.” We read this prophecy and hold our breath to see if it is an ominous one or she simply had a bad experience of her own.
When Sylvie has a little moan about her marriage Tilda offers: ‘Did you not read the disclaimers? “May cause headache, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbance or general feeling of wanting to stab something?”’
She is “the best kind of friend … who can’t be brushed off and never gets offended.” And she is there when Sylvie really needs her. In truth, we could all do with one of those.
Following Sylvie’s train of thought, we’ve got an opportunity to see the workings of that elusive “women’s logic”. She overthinks, overanalyses, over-exaggerates and basically creates issues where there were none. Sounds familiar? I think Sophie Kinsella has really captured the essence of women’s changeable nature. Sylvie is such a prime example. She has got so much in common with so many of us. Women’s excessive worrying about something, constant fretting and allowing their imagination get the better of them can be truly baffling for a man, even the most loving and patient one. But do men themselves possess the same qualities?
The humour within the book
I absolutely adore Sophie Kinsella’s sense of humour and her easy and convivial manner of writing. Reading her books is like catching up with an old friend: moving, fun and thoroughly enjoyable. There are so many things in the book most of us can identify with, like Sylvie’s take on gourmet cooking: “I do know mint. Mint and rosemary. Any other herbs, forget it: I’d need to see them in a Tesco packet to identify them.”
One of the funniest scenes in Surprise Me would probably also appear very familiar to many. In this day and age, we often rely on technology for answers to everything. Many of us tend to think that by Googling something or watching a few videos on YouTube we can become experts on any subject, even the ones that take years to master. You have to read the book to find out what happened when Tilda – a Google-taught brand new photography whizz – decided to help out Sylvie with a free professional photo-shoot.
Above all, Surprise Me really makes you think about relationships, marriage and the true meaning of love. The book has potential to make a real impact on the way you view them. And in the end, I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s point of view (spoken through Tilda): “If love is easy, then you are not doing it right.”
I found that Surprise Me has an extraordinary number of beautiful quotes. There are simply too many to mention. I’ve tried to include a few, but they are only a tip of the iceberg. The book is literally a treasure trove of thought-provoking paragraphs and meaningful one-liners I just wanted to write down and keep close to my heart.
Try as I may, I cannot possibly relay just how truly moving the ending is. All I’ll say is: try to finish reading the book in private. You are very likely to get extremely sentimental.
Surprise Me really pulled at my heartstrings and I crying my eyes out reading the final pages. It was completely unexpected, highly emotionally charged and, of course, … surprising.
Photograph of Sophie Kinsella by John Swannell.
Read Natasha Godbold’s review of Sophie Kinsella’s “My not so perfect life” here.