One month before lockdown, the author known as Sophie Kinsella was speaking at a luncheon for fans at an Italian restaurant. During the question-answer portion, one participant raised her hand and asked if Kinsella would ever consider trying a genre other than romantic comedy.
“I said, sort of as a flip remark, ‘Maybe one day I should have a sad ending,’” Kinsella, whose real name is Madeleine Wickham, told Glamour. “And this lady went ‘NO!’ in complete panic. And then the whole audience started going ‘WE WON’T BUY IT!” Kinsella laughs, imitating a crazed mob of readers. “WE’RE NOT HERE FOR IT!”
Kinsella—Oxford graduate, mother of five, one-time beleaguered financial journalist—has been writing romantic comedies for over two decades. She’s written 28 novels, including the celebrated Confessions of a Shopaholic books. A young adult novel and a children’s series number among her accomplishments. Her books have twice been adapted into sparkling, high budget Hollywood movies. A third movie is in development at Amazon, set to star Dakota Fanning, with a screenplay by one of the writers of Legally Blonde.
Over 45 million copies of Sophie Kinsella novels have been sold. And every one of them has a happy ending. For every person who stood up at the fan luncheon, ready to throw profiteroles and prosecco at the mention of tragedy, Kinsella is right there with them. “I root for my characters, I love them, I’m probably too close to them, and I do want life to work out for them,” she says.
Kinsella is not her characters, but they share some commonalities. One is this kind of comment—she’s speaking brightly about love, and then all of a sudden there’s a flash of determination, like a pair of designer boots peeking out of a nondescript carrier bag. “I think: You know what? Let’s just have a slice of life in which it works out,” she says. “Nothing too perfect, just a bit of hope. What’s wrong with that?”
What is wrong with that? These are the kind of books people call “guilty pleasures,” but I never feel guilty reading a Sophie Kinsella novel any more than I would feel guilty having coffee with a dear friend. They’re not formulaic so much as consistent—a source of dependable cheer, summer-y and Christmas-y at the same time. Kinsella’s new book, The Party Crasher, out this week, takes place over the course of a single party at a sprawling country estate. Kinsella intended it as a “supreme piece of escapism” to help readers get through lockdown. The protagonist spends several very funny scenes hiding from her family in a closet and under a table. “I realized that I had written a book about a claustrophobic family stuck in a house,” Kinsella laughs.
Kinsella’s huge breakthrough was Confessions of Shopaholic—the novel in 2000, the movie in 2009, and nine succeeding books in the series. Like that character, Becky Bloomwood, Kinsella worked as a financial journalist in her early 20s despite a lack of interest, and even less confidence. At 25, she left office life behind to write novels. Now she’s in her fifties. She and her husband have five children. Her career is gigantic, and growing. Most of her protagonists are still single, childless women in their 20s or 30s, early in their careers.