This review contains spoilers.
This Goodreads reviewer, I think, pinpoints what’s wrong with Christmas Shopaholic, the tenth outing in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, when she observes that protagonist Becky “trivialize[s] so many important societal and cultural issues.”
When Becky Bloomwood first appeared in The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, she was a carefree twenty-something singleton in the early stages of her career whose escalating debt problems were mostly played for laughs – an approach that was effective mainly because they didn’t really affect anyone apart from her, and because her substantial social safety net meant she was never in danger of any real consequences. Ten books later, Becky is married with a young daughter and not-insignificant social responsibilities, and her self-absorption and chronic inability to control her spending are beginning to look less like adorable character flaws and more like gross irresponsibility.
As its title indicates, the novel sees Becky hosting her family and friends for Christmas for the first time, with all the planning, panicking and last-minute crises that entails. Her parents have come over all hipster and moved to Shoreditch, and their resentful friends aren’t speaking to them any more; her daughter Minnie is asking for a very specific Christmas present; her half-sister Jess is labouring under some emotional strain that she won’t talk about.
It’s Jess’ storyline that the novel struggles most to handle: she’s a vegan who tries to minimise her consumption of goods, and who along with her husband Tom is in the process of adopting a South Americana child. When she first appeared in Shopaholic & Sister, she was intended basically as a joke, Becky’s complete opposite in every way. She sort of worked as a stock character, a stereotype; but now, as an established member of Becky’s family, we need to read her sympathetically, as a real and (slightly more) complex person. This leaves her anticapitalist, eco-friendly views, which are so thoroughly at odds with the series’ consumerist ethos, in a sort of uneasy limbo: neither Becky nor Kinsella are capable of engaging with them as more than an aestheticised consumer identity (cue scenes of Becky spilling lentils all over the floor of a zero-plastic shop), but they’re still THERE, uncomfortably, pointing up the excessive waste of Becky’s Christmas preparations in a way that doesn’t ever get meaningfully dealt with. Climate change: a massive bummer, amirite?
So, yeah. While I quite enjoyed Christmas Shopaholic, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way, as a getting-ready-for-the-holidays treat, I would not call it a good novel even by the standards of this series: Secret Dreamworld might have been trashy and materialistic, but at least it wasn’t trying to be anything more than it was. I’m not sure there’s much more left to be wrung out of the Shopaholic conceit.