From the moment Confessions of a Shopaholic hit our bookshelves all the way back in 2000, Sophie Kinsella has been our go-to author whenever we need a good laugh. Her new book My Not So Perfect Life will be no exception: in one of the novel's opening scenes, the main character trips on a crowded commuter train and accidentally takes a bite of a stranger's panini on the way down. That's just one of many laugh-out-loud hilarious moments in this feel-good novel about social media and personal branding, and the hectic realities behind our perfect online lives.
My Not So Perfect Life is about Katie Brenner, a 20-something living a less-than-glamorous life in London. When she is fired from her job, she goes back to her family home in Somerset to help her father and stepmother with their new glamping business. And when Katie's ex-boss Demeter shows up as a guest, Katie suddenly has a chance for hilarious revenge.
Kinsella obviously has a gift for comedy, but it doesn't come without hard work. In fact, she tells Bustle, "that's my rule when I'm writing a funny scene: I write and rewrite until I laugh out loud. When I'm writing an emotional scene, I cry!" This doesn't surprise me: any of her many devoted readers who have laughed and cried along with her will be able to testify to how much emotion Kinsella puts into her work.
My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, $16, Amazon
With five children to raise alongside a hugely successful writing career, it can't always be easy for Kinsella to keep laughing. Katie, the main character in Kinsella's My Not So Perfect Life, struggles to balance a demanding job in branding, a strained relationship with her father, and a not-totally-realistic Instagram account — and when her mega-glamorous boss Demeter fires her in a spectacularly brutal way, it's no surprise Katie has a bit of a sense of humor failure.
Kinsella stresses the importance of giving yourself a break, saying that "Katie is a girl who is destined to get to the top, and she mustn't be afraid of that — but she must also take time to relax." Kinsella adds that she "would love to see part-time work more widely respected" — which would certainly give young women like Katie a chance to bring more balance to their lives.
And of course, social media makes it all so much harder. The pressure to lead a perfect life has always existed, but Kinsella points out that "Instagram makes it relentless and 24/7 and so much more pervasive. Once upon a time we only had the neighbors to 'keep up with'; now it's potentially the whole world."
If Sophie Kinsella had a perfect Instagram life, she would be seen "writing at an immaculate desk, dressed up for events and always smiling." In reality, she says, "the 'not-so-perfect author's life' is me sitting, hunched, frowning, trying to work out my next plot twist, or pacing around the streets of London, bumping into people because I'm so distracted. Oh, and in real life, my desk is a mess!"
While Kinsella says Instagram is "incredibly fun and creative and brilliant at connecting people," it can become damaging if we rely on it too much for our self-image. And as social media has increasingly taken over our lives, flawed characters like Kinsella's, who offer up more realistic female role models, have become ever more important to us as readers. "I always try to write real heroines," Kinsella agrees, "so my readers can relate. My message is often: yes, you can be flawed, you can make mistakes, but your life doesn't end if you mess up and you can still get to a great place." For Kinsella herself, the first character that resonated with her was Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, who she describes as "enquiring and adventurous."
Enquiring and adventurous are certainly two adjectives that could describe My Not So Perfect Life's heroine Katie — and also Kinsella herself, who wasn't afraid to give "glamping" a go as part of her research in writing the book, an experience she described as "atmospheric and definitely inspirational."
Optimism has often been a key quality of Kinsella's characters, and it seems that they were inspired by Kinsella's own positive attitude. "A wise writer once said to me," she tells Bustle, "always say ‘I never get writer’s block’ and on some level, your brain will hear these words and believe them, so they will become self-fulfilling. Cross fingers, it’s worked so far!" Kinsella is one of the most bestselling authors around today, so it's safe to say that it certainly has.