Thursday, November 8, 2007

Shopaholic Shelf Life

I'm reading Sophie Kinsella's current Shopaholic book - Shopaholic & Baby - and quite frankly I don't know if I'm having a good time or not.

I'll admit to being a huge admirer of Kinsella's work under her other name, Madeleine Wickham. The Gatecrasher remains one of my all-time favorite pleasure reads: witty, subversive, moving and unpleasant and everything in between. She has a way of taking you by the hand, leading you down the garden path, then pushing you off a cliff you didn't even know was there.
But back to the Sophie Kinsellas. I'm beginning to think I'm a wee bit shopped out. There is, quite frankly, just so much dumb I can take and Becky Bloomwood Brandon may have crossed the line in this one. (Although I seem to remember saying the same thing after reading the one before this one.)
Which proves a thesis I've been formulating: the shelf life for series books is surprisingly short. Robert B. Parker and Sue Grafton notwithstanding, I'm not sure if any series (no matter how wonderful) is meant to last beyond five books. Sure there are exceptions to every rule, but I find my interest begins to wane around book four or five. The eccentricities stop being quite so charming. The set pieces feel contrived. The thrill is gone and it's unlikely book six is gonna bring it back.
It's a rare author who can keep it going past that point and keep it surprising. Kinsella (who is a truly gifted writer) is working with especially difficult constraints: if Becky Bloomwood Brandon ever gets a handle on her shopaholic ways, the series is over. Nobody wants to read about BBB clipping coupons or waiting for the yearly sale at Harrod's to stock up on cashmere scarves.
Maybe it's me. Maybe my attention span is growing shorter with age. Or maybe it's the problem that seems to affect most writers I know: The Oz Syndrome. Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy sees beyond the special effects and realizes the Great and Terrible Oz is nothing more than a failed snake-oil salesman from Kansas?
"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." Reading for pleasure is much more fun if a writer can manage to do that.

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