Reading Sophie Kinsella’s newest novel, ‘Mini Shopaholic’, I attempted to reserve judgement about the book based on the front cover graphics of mother (Becky) and toddler (Minnie) laden with shopping bags all displaying designer names. Obviously, a book has more to it than the front sleeve. Surely. Maybe Becky Brandon would be a more complex character than this picture would give credit for, and overturn the limited characterisation of women as only being interested in shopping. Sure she wants a ‘shopping friend for life’ in her two year old daughter, and can’t stand those mothers who wear ‘crocs over nubbly homemade socks’. ‘Nubbly’? I know, I’m not too sure what that means either. My hopes weren’t high.
The novel is set against a ‘silly’ financial crisis, which keeps getting in the way of Becky’s plans of spending copious amounts of money on designer clothes. Which are described in detailed bracketed sentences alongside Becky’s stream of consciousness, acting as some sort of literary subtitles to the, almost inert, action of the plot. Becky herself is never given an extensive physical description, and Kinsella states that this was a conscious decision so that ‘anyone’ could identify with her. I guess most women spend £110 on a cardigan then. The disparity of descriptive detail between Becky and her clothes generates a voyeuristic emphasis on what she is wearing. The reader cannot picture Becky, but does know exactly what colour of Burberry bag, Louboutin shoes and Dior sunglasses she is wearing. She is not a character but a walking clothes horse which the reader is invited to jealously drool over. The woman disappears behind the clothes, literally becoming ‘all fur coat and no knickers’.
However, limitations to her shopping habits pushes Becky towards engaging in an empowering project to prove to her friends just how resourceful she can be – a surprise birthday party for her husband. With what could be called ‘Stepford suburban reserve’, the trials and tribulations of this feat somehow manage to last the entire book. Fear not prospective housewives it does not all end in tears. The label obsessed shopping stereotype lives on, men are from mars and women are from Harrods?