September 14, 2011
The Undomestic Goddess
First published in: 2005
This edition: Black Swan, 2006
Genre: chick lit
Cover illustration by Gavin Reece; design by Stephen Mulcahey
I'm fine with books that aren't perky and happy. I'll read those that move me to tears. But I need some laughter and fun at times, too. I stocked up on chick lit the first weekend of April, and read one immediately. I needed it (as well as a glass of red wine). Sophie Kinsella is usually a safe bet if you want giggles and enjoyment.
THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS offers plenty of humor, as Samantha Sweeting finds herself in a rather silly situation all of the sudden. A smart – with an IQ of 158 – and driven lawyer, Sam is up for partnership at London's most prestigious law firm… but then there's The Error. The one Sam made, costing the firm 50 million pounds, most likely costing Sam her job. In a humiliated daze, Sam flees the city, taking a train to some obscure town in the Cotswolds, where she's quickly mistaken to be the applicant for a new job as housekeeper for the Geigers. Sam figures her life in London is as good as over. Why not… start somewhere fresh? So, she takes the job.
There is just one catch. Sam has absolutely zero, NIL experience at housework. She can't even make toast. Needless to say, the Geigers' new housekeeper is anything but the domestic goddess they believe her to be…
Yes. This one's very silly indeed, but it offered me what I needed at the time, which is several giggles. Sam is, despite some inconsistencies which I'll get to in a moment, a very sympathetic character and I enjoyed her story, generally, because of her likability. She does remind me of SHOPAHOLIC's Becky Bloomwood, but Sam's far less irritating and you know, less crazy. She has more of Becky's better qualities.
The setting is lovely; I'm a fan of rural England, especially the Cotswolds: utterly charming and visually stunning. I could picture being there. Kinsella did make me feel like I was completely in the Cotswolds zone during this read.
And then there's the romance, which is predictable – The gorgeous gardener? Hello Captain Obvious – but very, very cute nonetheless. There is chemistry between Sam and Nathaniel. I simply took a shine to him, because he seems to be a great guy and a fine love interest. Not too perfect, not too confident, a quiet one. I liked that he owns a pub, too. His mother Iris is a warm character I instanly adored. Even the Geigers are somewhat likeable, though they are a handful at times.
I never have high standards when I read chick lit, that would be unreasonable, but several things about GODDESS bothered me.
For one, Sam uses her real name while on her rural hideout from the world, but in this day and age of Google – and her Error being all that's talked about online – surely… I mean, the Geigers strike me as the Curious Kind, and they do own computers. Sam should've used a fake name to make the story a bit more believable.
But either way, the story borders on ridiculous at times; Sam is supposed to have an IQ of 158 but I was convinced throughout the book that she's actually dumb as a doorknob. A lot of housework isn't so much about being a full-on domestic who's handy with everything, as it is about having common sense. It's trial and error, and usually you catch on quickly enough. But not as quickly as Sam catches on the art of cuisine. In a few weekends she can bake the perfect double-layered cake and cook her way through French cuisine. For a girl who didn't know how to boil an egg properly to become Britain's master chef over the span of a few weeks, now that's equally doubtful.
A supersmart lawyer doesn't know how to make toast, thus is actually an idiot; several weeks later said idiot is the new Julia Child, thus is actually a genius. I could not suspend my disbelief in either case.
But you can kind of see it coming, a book entitled THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS – of course at the end of it all, she's a rockstar in the housekeeping department. The book is generally predictable: I knew what the deal was with Sam's Error immediately.
I also noticed a bit of a black and white view of London/city versus the countryside. London career life is soul-sucking, unsocial, lifeless, pale skinned miserableness – while life in the country is pure and good… blah blah. Career women have lives too, though admittedly women like Sam who live and breathe for partnership may be taking it a step too far. But it doesn't mean that life as a domestic in the country is all contentment either. It depends on who you are and what you want out of life and what makes you happy.
But I do understand that Sam needs to figure out what she wants, and what she wants isn't the career and city life anymore. She needs to see the good in the other side of things. (Sam, thankfully, does evolve and learns a lot in this story.)
Finally, the ending, I won't give it away, but it is disappointing because it's all over the place. The book "ends" several times, at least that's how it feels. But then Kinsella has a change of heart and inserts another plot twist. And another, and one more. The reader feels kind of pulled in every direction.
I do wish Kinsella would have made the ending less of a roller coaster, and focused her energy and pages instead on providing closure on other storylines and characters which had been left somewhat in the balance. What happens to the Geigers, what happens to selected people from Sam's law firm, Sam's relationship with her mother…? It would have been better if GODDESS had been a bit more neatly wrapped up. It's hard to explain this one, because I can so easily give something away, but I'll just say that GODDESS would've been a more satisfying read had Kinsella allowed her characters to go through with some necessary confrontations.
Overall I did enjoy the book. I was looking for breezy and funny and I got that, of course I did. THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS is a fun read, perfectly light, but it's not without its flaws. But I wasn't looking for much, and its cuteness makes GODDESS alright enough for me.
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.