by Sophie Kinsella
If you’ve ever been married then chances are you’ve felt that . . . itch.
You’ve wondered, is this really the last man I will ever kiss? The last man I will ever sleep next to? Will we still love each other as much fifty years from now as we do today?
Will it last? Will it be boring? Can we make it through wrinkles and menopause and the children leaving the nest?
And if you’ve been married or with someone for an extended period of time, you’ve also probably wondered how to keep the spice in your relationship. When it’s so easy to be bogged down with the children and the walking of the dog, with dinner menus that please everyone and the visiting of parents, with school plays and the mundane way your job plays into life – sometimes you have to wonder if you’ll be able to make it at all. It’s hard to fit in romance when you’re changing diapers or cleaning toilets; some days it’s a challenge to even find time to shower, let alone put on makeup and fix your hair so you can remain physically attractive to your mate. Things become comfortable and stagnant and things that used to hold such importance (like a glass of wine and deep conversation or getting that workout in at the gym so you look good naked) is overruled by just getting through the day. Life continues to pass by and the seasons change from fall to winter, spring to summer, and all back around again as the years tick on in that endless way they have. Instead of quiet dinners for two in the hottest new restaurant or romantic eatery with the candlelit corners, the daily and weekly routines consist of noisy dinners for four or five, a messy highchair to clean up afterward, and dishes of half-eaten food from picky toddlers heaped up in the sink.
Being able to carve out time to still remain an actual couple . . . a couple in love . . . it takes time and patience and work. It sometimes takes things that seem impossible to procure when you’re not only a husband or wife, but also a parent and an employee. When you barely have time to breathe . . . when you haven’t had a pee alone in nearly ten years, how do you make quality time for your spouse? And for many people, they just don’t make it . . . . marriages collapse and fail, they implode and fade away like so many fallen autumn leaves on a windy afternoon in November.
Sylvie and Dan have had a decent enough go of it. A decade together has produced one successful (so far) union of marriage, two perfectly beautiful twins who appear to be well-adjusted and normal, a modest home in a good part of town, and a couple of jobs that are as satisfying as anyone can expect work to be. So fine-tuned is their relationship that Sylvie and Dan can complete one another’s sentences, can sense what the other will order at a restaurant, and to say that they have bath-and-bedtime with their daughters down to a complete science is an understatement. Their marriage is the picture-perfect image of a well-oiled machine, with little to no complaints. But after an afternoon spent at the doctor’s office getting their yearly checkups leads to a discussion about how many years they may actually have to spend together (nearly . . . 68!?) the duo starts to wonder – do they know each other too well? Are things too easy? Is life going to be spent in a complete state of utter boredom . . . their lives destined to be the exact same scene set every single day of the rest of their (overly long) lives?
In an effort to change things up a bit and keep life interesting, Sylvie instates a game of surprises. She challenges Dan to keep the spice in life and keep her on her toes with as many surprises as he can come up with. On top of this, she vows that she’ll make their evolution as a couple her priority; they can do things like only speak Italian for a decade, or move to a different country every 15 years. Dan suggests an exotic holiday away, that trip to Spain they’ve always spoken about or something of the like . . . never mind that it will take a huge chunk out of their savings to put on. But at every turn of surprises something wrong seems to happen; the fancy international breakfast Sylvie orders for Dan in bed is chock full of disgusting delicacies and the snake Dan brings home as a surprise leaves his wife in a state of ick and terror. The couple end up more frustrated and annoyed than sated and alive, and both are feeling exhausted enough to dread the next 65+ years of this.
The balancing act of home and work is beginning to close in on Sylvie when she learns that her cushy job at a quirky and obscure museum she loves may be on the line due to budget cuts from an already non-existent budget. Her stress levels are on the rise and she can feel familiar anxieties start to creep in, threatening to overload her from the inside, out. It’s funny how everything can go from being completely comfortable and a full-on routine and turn on a dime into a life of chaos and desperation, and Sylvie is trying not to buckle under the pressure. It doesn’t help that Dan is starting to pull away in every sense of the word, and after a stolen moment in a garden leads to her husband reminiscing about an ex-girlfriend, Sylvie becomes insecure and hard to handle. On top of the strife at home and in the office, she must find the time to write that speech she’s set to give for the unveiling of an addition to the hospital in honor of her late father, a man who was her absolute hero. She certainly won’t find solace or compassion for that in the arms of her aloof husband; Dan and her father never really got on and every time her dad’s name comes up, her husband completely shuts down.
If it wasn’t hard enough to be a wife and a mother and an honorable employee, Sylvie finds herself at a complete loss with everyone around her. She can’t seem to get anything right and she’s falling victim to the voices inside of her head. . . could a distant husband mean a cheating husband? Could a stalling career mean the end for her at the museum? And as a scandal rocks the relationship between Sylvie and Dan even further, she has to question . . . did she truly ever know him at all, or has he always been a complete stranger to her?
Surprise Me is the newest novel from Sophie Kinsella, an author best known for her work in the fiction genre settled firmly around male/female relationships and humorous chick-lit tales. As the author of the famed Shopaholic novels portraying the sweet and sassy character Rebecca Bloomwood and her obsession with shopping, Kinsella made a name for herself in the chick-lit circuit and earned fans around the world. She is also known in the literary world as Madeleine Wickham, with such novels as The Gatecrasher and the charming Cocktails for Three.
I’ve read many of Kinsella’s books and I always enjoy them. She has a way of bringing witty and unassuming humor into her novels and she portrays her beautifully flawed female character with a realness that I can really relate to. I know when I pick up a Kinsella novel that I will be giggling nearly all the way through, and while Surprise Me certainly supplied that punch, it also left me with something extra. I felt connected to these characters.
As a woman who is on her second marriage, I understand how easy it is to fall into a routine (especially with children!) and forget that you were a couple before you were Mom-Dad-Chauffeur-PTA President-Manager-Soccer Dad. You were two people who fell in love and actually held real conversations, and it can get so easily trampled on once you add everything else into the mix. Sylvie’s character was very relatable and the book was much deeper than I assumed it would be. I appreciated Kinsella’s approach to the complexities of relationships, and there were real layers to this story that were a wonderfully pleasant surprise.
Giving Surprise Me 4 out of 5 stars I have to say, the real surprise of this story was its depth and presentation of reality. Fans of Kinsella will not be disappointed.