How Not to Save Your Relationship

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Sylvie and Dan have been together for ten years. They know everything each other will say before it is spoken. They have fallen into a comfortable routine, every gesture known before it is made, every day tracking much the same. They have good jobs, beautiful twin girls, and everything seems to be going fine. . . that is, until their doctor happily announces that they can easily live another 68 years. Together. When they said “till death do us part” they really hadn’t expected 78 full years together. With no surprises and nothing else to learn about each other, a death sentence really would have felt better than this endless, torpid life. What can they do?

Sylvie is desperate to transform this bad situation. They can add some spice to their life, right? Add surprises for one another, make everything more exciting. Maybe there will be a decade for travel . . . and another decade for something else. But when the surprises keep going bad – a weird soggy international breakfast delivery and her husband’s addition of a pet snake to the family – it looks like their happily ever after has transformed into something far more sinister. Can nothing save their relationship?

As they track along, each attempt failing, something else from the past starts to rear its head. Something far more surprising and earth shattering than Sylvie ever could have wanted. This is a truth that will tear apart everything she thought she knew. As Dan becomes more distanced and interested in an old ex, it looks like Project Surprise Me was the final nail in the coffin of their bland relationship.

Kinsella has a way of combining comedy with all the feels. Yes, it’s chick lit, but chick lit at its finest, with all the emotional ups and downs, the desperate tissue reaches, the “awwww” moments, the near disasters, and in between, lots of moments for absurdist comedy. Only Kinsella can pack all this into one small book and shift her audience from laughter to sobs with a talented flick of her pen.

Surprise Me is a little more serious, or at least a little more emotional, than some of Kinsella’s other books. I didn’t resonate with the couple’s depression over their supposedly long life span together. This comfortable marriage seemed perfect for me, but I am a different type of person than Sylvie and Dan. As we start to get into the surprises, though, their love for one another starts to come through. Likewise, the complexity of Sylvie’s hero worship for her dad and her complicity in her mom’s endless sales’ schemes reveals so much about the imperfections of families and relationships. Dan’s supposed infidelity, as well as a sideline about Sylvie’s job, overshadows the comedy, and soon readers are on a roller coaster, the sweeter, funnier side of the surprises being usurped as all the feelings come to a head. That’s not too say that there aren’t plenty of laughs along the way, from a surprise cardigan to a boudoir photo shoot gone bad, but Surprise Me is more concerned with the depths of this supposedly stagnant relationship and its salvation than in temporarily giving us a laugh.

Overall, it’s another remarkable edition to my Kinsella library, another reminder of why I love this author so much. Kinsella is talented, relatable, funny, quirky – everything that is simply the best in a well told story. Her characters become people – people you love and want to help. Kinsella’s storylines, despite how absurd things get, always come home and hit us right in the heart. I need Kinsella to write so many more books! Surprise Me will go on my dedicated shelf for all her novels.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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