Published: 13 February 2018
Publisher: Dial Press
Category: Womens Fiction/Romance/Contemporary
After being together for ten years, Sylvie and Dan have all the trimmings of a happy life and marriage; they have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, beautiful twin girls, and communicate so seamlessly, they finish each other’s sentences. However, a trip to the doctor projects they will live another 68 years together and panic sets in. They never expected “until death do us part” to mean seven decades.
In the name of marriage survival, they quickly concoct a plan to keep their relationship fresh and exciting: they will create little surprises for each other so that their (extended) years together will never become boring. But in their pursuit to execute Project Surprise Me, mishaps arise and secrets are uncovered that start to threaten the very foundation of their unshakable bond. When a scandal from the past is revealed that question some important untold truths, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other after all.
Sophie Kinsella’s books are tricky. Her writing is good, but there are other elements that make them less than ideal, whether it be facets of the plot, the characters, or pacing. In the case of Surprise Me, it was primarily a mixture the characters with a bit of the pacing thrown in.
The premise itself, keeping a marriage interesting over the course of six plus decades, has some interest. While there is the inevitable change in human nature, there’s also the thirst for fun and having that fun together is part of spending all that time as a partnership. It took awhile for the surprise idea to actually show up, 24% of the Kindle version as my notes serve. Once they did, that’s when the trouble began and I couldn’t decide whether the ways they went awry were wholly believable or dementedly twisted to make for a “fun” book. The one that irritated me the most was the pet. Who the heck gets someone a pet as a surprise? That was beyond a bad movie and I feel bad for poor Dora (the pet snake that now resides in the kitchen).
The surprises also didn’t actually stick around for that long. Considering the fanfare they got in the synopsis, I was expecting more. Considering the late arrival and early departure of the titular surprises, what does it say about the plot that they’re not really the thing we’re steered toward caring about? It felt like a switch around because I thought the surprises were meant to be the main thing, then a mean new boss was introduced, but he also faded into the background and the novel became about Sylvie being a stereotypical suspicious wife that made broad assumptions and made grand leaps that were ridiculous. I couldn’t see real people acting like she did, particularly at the finale.
Sylvie and Dan’s reaction to the “you’ve got a good chance at spending the next sixty-eight years together” was blown entirely out of proportion. Maybe it would’ve been time for some thought, but this is literally what you sign up for when you get married. Being the same age as them, I felt like there were moments when I would’ve stared at them incredulously and wondered what the bloody hell they were thinking.
They felt like just the sort of couple I might strongly dislike if I met them in real life. Sylvie was largely judgmental and seemed to think it was alright because she didn’t make these comments aloud. There were criticisms of everyone from the people around her like her boss and her neighbors to sexist comments about her husband (which she insisted weren’t but were). There were more little niggling things that bugged me about both of them, such as their fights about money (somewhat complex because of family inheritances/backgrounds, etc.) and their job decisions. A lot of it comes back to communication.
The way these two were written, it became painfully more obvious that these “problems” they were having? Whatever difficulty came up post-doctor visit, it was all very much first world, heteronormative white people problems that were utterly ridiculous. I didn’t feel much sympathy because they were being supercilious and it was their own fault for not talking to each other.
There’s an issue I had with the way either grieving or mental illness was handled in the course of the book. Following a death in the family two years prior to the start of the novel, Sylvie had a rough time coping. She either had an “episode”/meltdown or was grieving, depending on who you asked. At one point Tilda, Sylvie’s neighbor/best friend, says that she thinks Sylvie was just grieving and it wasn’t an “episode”.
While I agree that Dan and her mum protected her too much, they were around the situation quite a bit more than Tilda. The pre-book death, a car crash, lead to Sylvie’s showing up unannounced and staring at the house of the other party involved in the accident, as well as sending a letter the other party’s family that they found threatening, which leads me to believe that Dan and Syvlie’s mum might have been more on the side of right than Tilda. However, given this excuse to make herself all better, Sylvie swoops at it and ignores all protestations. I’m not sure a proper resolution/answer/conclusion was really talked about here, even after she does start therapy because that course of action is in relation to something else.
In conclusion, Surprise Me felt like a stretch of the imagination in terms of believability. Whether anyone will really stick with what they learned in the end is debatable because there’s a “happy” ending, but it felt forced. One quote from Sylvie stood out to me shortly before the close:
“Dan …” I say more gently. “No one actually knows. We could have seventy-two more years together . Or two. Or two days.”
That entire quote should have flashed in their heads at the beginning.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.