Sophie Kinsella cites Jane Austen as a major influence on her writing, and her Shopaholic series in particular. It makes sense: Becky Bloomwood is, like Austen heroines, a quirky, endearing character with a fatal flaw – not pride, or predjudice, but a propensity to overspend. Kinsella’s books, like Austen’s, skewer contemporary society while guaranteeing a happy ending.
And it’s totally on-brand. Shopaholic titles are aimed directly at people who love Jane Austen (or think they would, if they get around to reading her.)
But I think Kinsella took some inspiration from another pioneering British woman author. One who might not resonate so well with her readers, being far too dark and dreary and depressing.
I read Good Morning, Midnight for Reading Rhys Week and in many ways it was a singular reading experience; but destructive heroine Sasha Jensen reminded me of something I’d read before. The fixation on clothes, accessories, and hair. The reliance on handouts from friends and family. The failed attempt at being a shopgirl. The time and effort spent on hiding from both her past and her future.
I thought it was all a coincidence till I got to the part where Sasha lies about knowing a second language to impress an employer. Just like Becky Bloomwood does in Confessions of a Shopaholic.
Then it dawned on me: Sasha Jensen is an older, broken Becky Bloomwood.
Don’t believe me? Let’s play a game.
Who said it: Becky Bloomwood or Sasha Jensen?
For each category, I chose one quote from Good Morning, Midnight, and one quote from Confessions of a Shopaholic. Can you guess who said it? Answers at bottom.
I’ll buy myself a nice cappuccino and a chocolate brownie. And a couple of magazines.
And maybe something from Accessorize. Or some boots. In fact I really need some new boots – and I’ve seen some really nice ones in Hobbs with square toes and quite a low heel. I’ll go there after my coffee, and look at the dresses, too. God, I deserve a treat, after today. And I need some new tights for work, and a nail file…. I feel happier already.
Tomorrow I’ll choose a dress, go along to the Printemps, buy gloves, buy scent, buy lipstick… buy anything cheap. Just the sensation of spending, that’s the point. I’ll look at bracelets studded with artifical jewels, red, green and blue, necklaces of imitation pearls, cigarette-cases, jewlled tortises… And when I have had a couple of drinks I shan’t know whether it’s yesterday, today or tomorrow.
On the power of physical transformation:
There is no question. I have to have this scarf. I have to have it. It makes my eyes look bigger, it makes my haircut look more expensive, it makes me look like a different person. I’ll be able to wear it with everything. People will refer to me as the Girl in the Denny and George Scarf.
I try to decide what colour I shall have my hair dyed, and hang onto that thought as you hang onto something when you are drowning…Shall I have it blonde cendre?…Tomorrow I must certainly go and have my hair dyed.
It’s all right. Tomorrow I’ll be pretty again, tomorrow I’ll be happy again, tomorrow, tomorrow….
On (not) knowing a second language:
Salvatini puts his head out of the door behind me and says: “Mr Blank want to see you.”
I at once make up my mind that he wants to find out if I can speak German. All the little German I know flies out of my head. Jesus, Help me! Ja, ja, nein, nein, was kostet es…
“Maybe I’ll be able to busk it, I think suddenly. I mean, the guy won’t conduct the whole bloody interview in Finnish, will he? He’ll just say “Haallo,” or whatever it is, and I’ll say “Haallo” back…
On love and violence:
“Oh, shut up!” I say crossly, and yank my hand out of his grasp so hard I get a row of teeth marks on my skin. “Just leave me alone!”
I would slap him, but he’s probably take it as a come-on.
“And I thought you were awfully sweet to me,” I say. “I loved all the various stories you told me about yourself. Especially that one about your wounds and your scars – that amused me very much.”
I put my arm up over my face, because I have a feeling that he is going to hit me.
On being a retail drone:
I would conduct the customer to the floor above, where the real activities of the shop were carried on… There was no life in this shop. That’s why I was there.
I had the job for three weeks. It was dreary.
“On the till? You think you’re going to go straight onto the till?”
“Oh,” I say, blushing a little. “Well, I thought…”
“You’re a beginner, darling,” say says. “You’re not going near the till.”
On the importance of routine:
What about the programme for this afternoon? That’s the thing – to have a plan and stick to it. First one thing and then another, and it’ll all be over before you know where you are.
Guilt Guilt Guilt Guilt.
Panic Panic Panic Panic.
If I let them, they’d swoop in and take over. So the trick I’ve learned is simply not to listen. My mind is very well trained like that.
My other trick is to distract myself with different thoughts and activities. So I get up, switch the radio on, take a shower, and get dressed.
- On shopping: Shopaholic; Good Morning, Midnight.
- On transformation: Shopaholic; Good Morning, Midnight.
- On second languages: Good Morning, Midnight; Shopaholic
- On love and violence: Shopaholic; Good Morning, Midnight
- On retail: Good Morning, Midnight; Shopaholic
- On routine: Good Morning, Midnight; Shopaholic