Title: The Undomestic Goddess
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: Random House, Inc.
Samantha Sweeting is a highly stressed attorney working for one of the best law firms in London. She has been working her whole life to become a partner at Carter Spink. On the day the firm is set to announce her partnership, she discovers that she has made a mistake that will cost one of the firm's clients millions of pounds. Suffering from a meltdown, Samantha walks out of the office and gets on a train to... well, she's not sure. She simply got off the train with a group of travellers without even thinking about where she was. When she stopped at a house to ask for directions, she was mistaken as an applicant for the housekeeping position. The owners love her and before she knows it, she has accepted the postion. The trouble is, Samantha can't even turn on her own oven or iron a shirt, much less take care of an entire house. Yet, through hard work and the help of some local people, she learns how to sew on a button, how to make bread, and how to work that stupid, high-tech washing machine. Things are going great for her as she learns her new skills and also finding love and warmth that she had never felt before. Yet, her past mistake is starting to catch up to her and she won't be able to hide who she truly is for much longer.
I feel that I should admit that I am really not a fan of this genre. I've never really been interested in reading books about Women's Lives and Relationships. Yet, in spite of myself, I actually enjoyed The Undomestic Goddess. Yes, it was full of cliches we've all come to expect in these novels: the hard-working, put-upon heroine, her vapid, career-oriented foil, the crazy and spontaneous best friend, and the hunky love interest. However, there was something more to this book that grabbed me at the very beginning. I actually identified with Samantha.
In the opening scene, she is trying to use a spa gift certificate in an attempt to relieve some stress from her job. Except she can't leave her job behind. Despite taking the morning off of work, she has snuck her cell phone and her Blackberry into the massage room and it turns out that she needed to as her boss calls her into work for a meeting that was pushed up. While my job isn't nearly as high-stress as hers, I can relate to her situation as I also get frequent calls from my office when I take a day off. Again, her life is far more excessive than mine, but I can relate to it nonetheless. I also felt a great deal of empathy for her in regards to her relationship with her family. They are all high-powered people who are also workaholics and don't really have time for anything but their jobs (and that includes Samantha's birthday). This is really the crux of the novel. Kinsella created a character that women could identify with or at least feel some empathy for. The entire book revolves around Samantha and her struggles and a book like this would fail the reader if he or she did not care for or about the heroine.
As a woman who wants a career, there are some disconcerting themes running throughout the novel. Outside of Samantha, the only women we see who had or were working towards a career were selfish, rude, controlling, and kind of bratty. The most likeable and happiest woman was the local woman who taught Samantha how to cook, sew, and clean. So, there seems to be this idea running through the novel that women are happier doing "domestic" work and are kinder and warmer towards other people than those who pursue a career. The feminist in me kind of growled at that. Yet, it is also very clear that Samantha's employer, a woman of leisure, is unfulfilled with just going shopping and getting her nails done. She comes alive when talking to Samantha about the business she and her husband built from the ground up and all the work she put into it before they sold it. She again comes alive when she takes on a charitable luncheon. As the story continued, it seemed to become clearer that Kinsella's statement isn't really that women are happier doing domestic work, but that everyone should do what makes them happy. Not that women can't have careers, but that everyone (women and men) shouldn't let the pressures of what everyone else wants from them affect what they do in life.
I think many women would enjoy this book if they're looking for a nice, quick read. It definitely strikes me as the kind of book one would read while on vacation or simply as an escape. Those who enjoy reading Janet Evanovich, Jane Green, or Helen Fielding would probably enjoy The Undomestic Goddess.