What if you woke up after an accident and couldn’t remember all the important things that had happened since 2004, such as that Brad and Jennifer broke up?
Remember Me? A Novel. By Sophie Kinsella. Dell, 430 pp., $7.99, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
Remember Madeleine Wickham? Unless you’re English, you probably don’t. But Sophie Kinsella wrote under that name – her real one – before she adopted the pseudonym that appears on her bestselling “Shopaholic” series. I liked the Madeleine Wickham novels I read, including A Desirable Residence, and hoped her new book would mark a return to their form – that of the quiet English novel of manners updated for the age of house lust and two-career couples. It doesn’t: Remember Me? is the literary equivalent of a fried Mars bar. But fried Mars bars are more filling than the handful of Sour Gummi Bears you often get from romance-novels-gone-mainstream like this one. And so it is with Remember Me?: If you have a choice between this book and a Danielle Steel novel at the airport, it’s no contest.
Kinsella has two virtues that are as apparent here as in her first Madeleine Wickham novels. Educated at Oxford University, Kinsella respects the language of King James and Monty Python. It is inconceivable that she would write, as Stephenie Meyer does in The Host, “It’s a voluntary choice.” If that seems slim basis for an endorsement, you probably walk right past all those books with embossed metallic covers each time you enter a bookstore.
Unlike many bestselling authors, Kinsella also knows how to plot. In Remember Me? she hangs her story on a creaky device – a young woman develops amnesia after a car accident – and her tale gets more improbable from there. Lexi Smart wakes up soon after a thump on the head in 2007 and finds she has forgotten all that has happened to her since 2004. The things she has forgotten include that a) she ditched her loser boyfriend and married a multimillionaire, and b) she evolved from a harried underling into the British carpet-industry’s equivalent of Faye Dunaway in Network. She also thinks Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are still together. As unlikely as it all of this is, it holds your attention — if it holds your attention — in part because the story has so many plot twists and moves so fast that you have little time to think about the absurdities. And Kinsella has control of her breezy and at times humorous tone – you never sense that she’s trying to be Doris Lessing or Hilary Mantel.
I can’t compare Remember Me? to the “Shopaholic” series, which I haven’t read. But I had less trouble finishing it than some novels that turned up on best-of-2009 lists, though this book had the least promising first line I’ve read in months. Remember Me? also had the welcome effect of drawing me back to the work of thoughtful Madeleine Wickham, who if we are lucky may still have a few books in her.
Best line: Lexi asks after learning that a sofa costs 10,000 pounds: “How can a sofa cost that much? What’s it stuffed with, caviar?”
Worst line: The first: “Of all the crap, crap, crappy nights I’ve ever had in the whole of my crap life.”
Published: 2008 (hardcover), 2008 (trade paperback), 2009 (mass market paperback)
Furthermore: Kinsella also wrote, as Madeleine Wickham, The Tennis Party and other books. The recent movie Confessions of a Shopaholic was loosely based on the first two novels in the “Shopaholic” series.
© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.