TO say you are a Sophie Kinsella fan but don’t really like the Shopaholic series is akin to claiming that you love Beethoven but don’t care for the Ninth Symphony. Or that you have a sweet tooth but hate chocolate. I’m sure you get the picture...
The Shopaholic series is what made Kinsella a household name (a bit ironic, considering that her real name is Madeleine Wickham, under which she has published seven standalone titles, but that’s beside the point). The first book of the series, The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic was published in 2000; six books and a Hollywood blockbuster down the road, the series has earned its creator a spot in the prestigious five million club — a short list comprising 15 fiction writers who have sold more than 5 million copies in the UK — and put her on the list of Britain’s 100 wealthiest women.
But if the adventures of the shopping mad Becky Bloomwood grate on your nerves after a while, don’t give up on Kinsella just yet. Because she’s far more than just a one series wonder and it’s in her standalone novels that she often shows her true strengths — her gift for coming up with a wacky, totally preposterous premise and making you question, well, what if? What if you spill your most intimate secrets to a stranger and then he comes back to haunt you as your new boss (Can You Keep a Secret?)? What if you wake up after a car accident and find that you’ve become a totally different person with a totally different life (Remember Me?)? What if you meet your great aunt’s ghost at her funeral and she shows you a whole new side to life (Twenties Girl)? Well, I did say preposterous.
That brings us to Kinsella’s latest romp, I’ve Got Your Number, starring Poppy Wyatt, another of Kinsella’s trademark klutzy heroines. How did we guess the klutzy part? Because the book begins with Poppy looking for her engagement ring — to be exact, a diamond and emerald heirloom ring that has been in her fiancé’s family for generations — which she lost during a party. While Poppy is frantically texting all her friends to see if any of them walked off with it, she loses her phone as well (to a phone snatcher, and we thought these things only happened in Karachi). Oh dear, now how will the person who finds the ring get in touch with her?
Any sane person would, at this point, go buy a new phone and reactivate the number but either the phone system works differently in the UK or else Poppy is beyond thinking logically because as soon as she stumbles on an abandoned phone in a litter bin she grabs on to it with a zeal that would shame a drowning man clutching a straw. So there we have Poppy sharing a phone with a complete stranger, reading and forwarding his email, answering his texts and basically trying to sort out his life for him. At the same time she has to hide the fact that she lost her ring from her fiancé, organise her wedding and play Scrabble with her prospective in-laws (who make words like iridium and contused while all Poppy can come up with is star and pig).
Is it even possible to access a person’s inbox just because you are using their phone? I’ve Got Your Number skates over many such technical glitches but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Because Number is not a story about tech savvy people; it’s a story about a woman who wants to be happy and wants to be liked. She wants to please her snooty wedding planner (and doesn’t make a fuss when the word ‘hymn’ is spelt ‘hymen’ on all her invitations). She wants to please her friend (who is making a play for her fiancé) and most of all she wants to please her fiancé because she feels he’s too good for her. Yes, Poppy Wyatt is a lovable doormat and anyone who’s ever felt insecure in a relationship will relate to her.
While Number lacks the originality of premise that defines Remember Me and doesn’t pull at the heartstrings like Twenties Girl, it has a delicious charm all its own. Poppy’s narrative is peppered with zingy footnotes (a trick she’s picked up from her fiancé’s academic works: “You just bung them in whenever you want and they instantly look clever”) and apt observations: “Every instinct in me wants to text someone ‘OMG I’ve lost my phone’ but how can I do that without a bloody phone?” If you’re a Kinsella fan, this one’s for you; if not, this is a good place to start.
The reviewer is a Dawn staffer
I’ve Got Your Number
By Sophie Kinsella
The Dial Press