“Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing all the answers. You don’t always have to know who you are. You don’t have to have the big picture, or where you’re heading. Sometimes it’s just enough to know what you’re going to do next.” – Iris to Samantha in “The Undomestic Goddess” (Sophie Kinsella)
Braincorder rewind. If I had a laptop (or just a BlackBerry) when I finished Sophie Kinsella’s “The Undomestic Goddess,” I might have been able to write a more accurate ‘reaction’ to -- by far -- the wittiest fiction I’ve read. Well, at least the absence of such thingamajig made me rush home to be able to write this down.
It’s outrageous when, being sure that we have everything “mapped out as planned,” we suddenly find out we’ve made a basic mistake which leaves us staring into blank space, not knowing what to do next. Like almost everything is just in disarray and everything’s just an incomprehensible mess, we find ourselves in a rut with a resounding gong that shouts, “STUPID.” Initial response: Flight.
That was what happened when Samantha Sweeting, lawyer extraordinaire who never made mistakes, found out about one big “error” on the very same day that she was about to be promoted as the youngest partner in London-based Carter Spink. She storms out of her office, boards the train out of the city and – with a fit of headache – inadvertently lands a job she hasn’t had any experience with: that of a housekeeper.
What starts out as a just-for-the-night cover in a village turns out as a perfect diversion for Samantha as she soon learns how to cook in French Cordon Bleu-style, clean glasses with vinegar, operate the Hoover, do the laundry and, by accident, curtsy to Trish and Eddie Geiger. Just when Samantha was about to go nuts over her first dinner menu, Nathaniel, the gardener finds out about her ‘secret’ and helps her out by offering cooking lessons from his mother, Iris. A friendship soon ensues. Nathaniel had no idea however, that Samantha’s “failed relationship” was as a relentless lawyer with a top-brass London-based law firm for seven years. Nathaniel hated lawyers.
A twist unfolds as Melissa, a niece of the Geigers and a law student, spends time in the Geigers’ home. Somehow, Samantha hasn’t fully gotten over her “relationship” and eventually finds out about why she “had” the mistake that lost her bid for partnership and got her fired from the firm. She goes back to London to settle the score.
I found it hard to stifle a laugh as I turned every page of this Kinsella-concocted bestseller, joining Samantha as she learns how to “have a life” cleaning the loo, making tea, picking raspberries, waitressing and, above all, falling in love and slowing things down. The novel’s playfulness is rather sweet and charming, not all romantic but just romantic and playful enough to make me forget that I only have a 30-minute break. It’s a perfect companion for anyone who delights in little heart-ticklers and who can dare say: “I look along the endless line, squinting in the sunshine. I’m twenty-nine years old. I can go anywhere. Do anything. Be anyone I like.”