Smugge by name, smug by nature, Isabella is debut-novellist Ruth Leigh’s unpalatable influencer character, who discovers she has a well-hidden heart of gold.
In The diary of Isabella M Smugge, you are hard-pushed to like ‘Issy’ much, what with her constant #hashtagging, (im)perfect family set creation and incessant people-judging. Moving from London to the country comes as a culture shock, but ultimately proves to be the making of Isabella herself, if not other aspects of her life.
I enjoyed this book. It made me laugh, cringe and sad at times. I guffawed at Issy’s nose-up descriptions of cheap coffee and supermarket sausage rolls. I winced at her not-so-altruistic efforts to support the community. I was upset by her memories of dysfunctional family moments.
There are some great one-liners and Issy is often unknowingly funny. At a particularly awkward dinner party…
I rose to commence the soufflé. I felt it would be politic to take Claire with me. Four soufflés are a bit of a challenge at the best of times, and I didn’t want the highly-charged atmosphere to cause my pièce de résistance to sink. #lightasafeather #raspberrysouffle
Her take on PTA meetings, school fairs, other Mums in the playground, church and a whole host of topics is sometimes shocking, but often has the teensiest pinch of truth, which is what makes us laugh with her and not at her more as her story unfolds.
Once the lecture was at an end, she exited and was replaced by the beleaguered nursery teacher and a ragged crocodile of tiny, confused children. We were then treated to something calling itself a dance. Some of the children hopped on one leg, others whirled round and round, several stuck their thumbs in their mouths and stared into space and one stole the show by announcing, ‘I need wee-wee’ and urinating lavishly on the grass. This would never have happened at Beech Grove.
You gradually begin to see how Issy’s background has shaped her, and you begin to forgive her for it. As a Christian writer, I expect forgiveness, friendship and kindness were themes Ruth was keen to include. There is an element of faith in this novel, but it is handled gently and not crow-barred in, rather like Issy’s gradual acceptance of church get-togethers, encouraged by her new vicar’s wife friend, who’s had, and is having, a much harder time herself.
It takes some skill to make you change your mind about a character as a book progresses, but Ruth manages it. In the end, even if you’re not quite punching the air for this #awardwinningblogger, you are at least hoping she continues her turnaround and finds more of her soul, becomes the kinder person you know is beneath that haughty exterior.
Ruth leaves us hanging right at the end, which I found a bit stressful. I always feel a bit like turning the back cover over and looking for more pages when that happens! But, she does right: we want to know what happens next in Issy’s story. #bravoRuth.
A funny, easy read. You can read a sample and purchase it here. Enjoy!