Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella published in 2018.
“After ten years together, Sylvie and Dan have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, and beautiful twin girls, and they communicate so seamlessly they finish each other’s sentences. They have a happy marriage and believe they know everything there is to know about each other. Until it’s casually mentioned to them that they could be together for another sixty-eight years…and panic sets in. They decide to bring surprises into their marriage to keep it fresh and fun. But in their pursuit of Project Surprise Me—from unexpected gifts to restaurant dates to sexy photo shoots—mishaps arise, with disastrous and comical results. Gradually, surprises turn to shocking truths. And when a scandal from the past is uncovered, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other at all.“
This book stayed true to its name because it definitely surprised me.
The reader follows Sylvie as she navigates through her picture-perfect life with her husband Dan and two young children. This is until they get the news that they’re going to live for another sixty-eight years, which is a dauntingly long time to be married to one person. To fix this dilemma, Sylvie starts to implement a plan to regularly surprise her spouse, and he to do the same towards her. After one momentous surprise, her husband Dan starts to stray away from her, both physically and emotionally. The only logical explanation Sylvie can think of is that he’s having an affair with an old flame. It also doesn’t help that there’s tension between Dan and her parents, even though her father died in a car accident years before. Sylvie is convinced that Dan is jealous of the abundant charm and wealth that her father possessed. As the gap in their relationship grows, Sylvie is driven to discover a family secret that she did not see coming.
Unfortunately, this book did not start off on the right foot for me. I did not like the characters at the beginning, specifically the main character Sylvie. I found her annoying and spoiled, the kind of person I would try to avoid in my real life. I mean, what grown adult calls their parents “Mummy and Daddy”? (Is it a British thing?) Either way, I found myself raising my brows and rolling my eyes that Sylvie’s mentality for most of the novel.
So because the main character has all these qualities, it spills over into the actual narrative of the book, since it’s written from her perspective. The writing style sort of sounded like a thirty-something-year-old trying to sound younger while gossiping over a wine lunch. This sort of quirky-ness could be charming for a bit, but for me, it grew old quickly. Maybe I’m just not the target demographic though, which I can accept.
Now I do understand that the character was created to be imperfect for the sake of the plot, because (without spoiling anything) she goes through somewhat of an epiphany near the end when secrets are revealed. After this breakthrough, her personality does a 180 turn and it’s almost as if a new person is narrating our story. The character development in Sylvie was ideal because her eyes were opened to becoming the best version of herself that she can be, which, granted, wouldn’t be possible if she hadn’t started out annoying and spoiled. It’s just that it took almost three hundred and fifty pages for the secret to be revealed that caused her big change in attitude, and I was getting a bit impatient.
Regarding her father, Kinsella made it quite obvious that something was going to happen with him. There are countless times throughout the book that it’s mentioned, either in dialogue or Sylvie’s inner narrative, how absolutely spectacular, amazing, wonderful, beyond perfect he was. Every single positive adjective in the English language was used to describe Sylvie’s late father, so you don’t have to be a literary genius to know that Kinsella wasn’t being subtle when setting up a future plot point revolving around her father. That being said, she did throw some curveballs when the actual secrets were revealed, so that was a delightful way to shake up the story.
The last one hundred pages or so was definitely an improvement from the first three hundred, as I eluded to above with Sylvie’s character development. Not only did I warm up to the characters, but the theme became much more solidified. I quite enjoyed the theme of focusing on the present and it was delivered really well near the end. Kinsella wrapped up everything in this book nice and neatly.
Surprise Me tricks you into thinking it’s a quirky love story of a happy couple trying to spark up some excitement in their marriage. Problems slowly start to trickle in though, starting off with a light suspicion of infidelity, to something a bit more serious. Sadly, for me, it took too long for this build-up to go anywhere substantial. Even though the character development was well done, it didn’t make up for the lack of plot development until the end. If you’re looking for a lighthearted, summer read that will inspire you to live in the present (but also want to skip to the future of the book when the plot becomes relevant) consider picking up a copy of Surprise Me.