'Confessions of a Shopaholic': If Patricia Highsmith Wrote Chick Lit

This isn’t Peyton Place, kids. Confessions of a Shopaholic isn’t even strictly “Classic,” but, as a reader pointed out last time, it’s 11 years old now, and, honestly, that makes it basically Jude the Obscure, right? It’s older than Facebook, so deal.

Confessions of a Shopaholic (or The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, if you’re from Jude the Obscure’s literary homeland) is the first in a series of six (!) novels following the excruciatingly useless Becky Bloomwood through her pointless, awful Hellmouth of a life, which, since there is No God, somehow rewards her again and again for her near-sociopathic narcissism and twittery charm. She is like a Balrog, but with accessories. She is the Void that stares back into us.

Also? Until yesterday? I had only read the first five books, and didn’t even know about Mini Shopaholic (it has bred, sweet Jesus). Rectified!

I love these books. I love everything about them. I love how Becky Bloomwood is completely devoid of sexuality: I imagine that she looks like a Ken Doll when she doesn’t have her adorable little pants on. I love how she learns nothing, ever, and is a worse person in each subsequent novel. These are the chick lit novels that Patricia Highsmith would have written, had she been born in a different time, and been forced to write books that could be sold with ribbon belts on the cover.

Do you remember the unfortunate novelist in Stephen King’s Misery? Do you remember how he wrote a jokey-spoof version in which his protagonist gets reamed by her German Shepherd for three hundred pages? Sometimes I imagine that Sophie Kinsella (who is really quite skillful; props to you, madam) has TWENTY SUCH BECKY BLOOMWOOD NOVELS sitting in a lockbox in her country home in the Cotswolds, which she drags out at intimate dinner parties for fabulous staged readings. And, in these novels, instead of humping dogs, Becky Bloomwood just casually kills people to get those things she covets (We covet what we see everyday). Scarves, darling little shoes, luggage. Sandwiches!

I digress.

Becky Bloomwood is, obviously, mentally ill. While she’s probably not a sociopath — she just has a shopping addiction — she’s also a shitty person. When she rifles through the rich guy’s checkbook while he’s in the bathroom to figure out his spending habits? After coming thisclose to grifting him for five hundred pounds for a fake charity in remembrance of her fake dead aunt? The rich guy who reminds us so much of that sweet, feckless “Tom” fellow from Four Weddings and a Funeral? You can’t handle it. It’s like looking directly into the sun.

I, personally, greatly struggle when reading books about people making terrible decisions based on addiction. It’s not even their fault! They’re addicted, you know? But then I’m reading Bill Clegg’s memoir, right, and he’s supposed to fly to London for a series of meetings, and he’s in a cab on the way to the airport, and you’re all, DO NOT ASK THE CABBIE WHERE YOU COULD SCORE SOME CRACK, BILL, your writers need you, and the next thing you know, he’s holed up in a Hampton Inn, 20 minutes from Newark, doing a tremendous amount of crack, for several days. Well, every single page of Shopaholic is like that. Becky is holed up doing crack in a Hampton Inn for six books, her crack is just more… nice handbags.

And it drives you nuts! Becky, you say, you have to get right with yourself! You have to buy a Suze Orman book, and start opening your bills, and ranking them by interest rate, and paying them off. You need to brown-bag it! You need to get a real job.

But, whatever, it all works out. In that a rich man falls in love with her. Oh, sure, they make a token effort to show her making better decisions, but, ultimately, Luke Brandon is bailing her ass out. Mazel tov, Becky! So much easier than selling your eggs.

Is it terribly wrong, though, that this series exists? Or is it okay, because we all love Dexter so much and he’s a serial killer, and it’s very funny sometimes? Why don’t we add that to our Discussion Questions, k?

Things Becky Buys That Becky Doesn’t Need
• “that suit in Jigsaw”
• “dinner with Suze at Quaglinos”
• “that gorgeous red and yellow rug”
• “that skin brusher thing which I must use”
• “my gorgeous new matching knickers and bra with embroidered yellow rosebuds”
• “a gorgeous blue ceramic plant holder with little elephants going around it”
• “a sweet little silver notebook and pen to write down everything I spend”
• “a photograph album covered in William Morris print, an old-fashioned wooden jigsaw puzzle, a book of fashion photographs, and a fantastic ceramic teapot”
• Some fucking scarf from Denny and George that she doesn’t shut up about for three chapters, and is all shimmery and gray-blue

Discussion Questions
• Okay, seriously, did you see the movie? Because I DID NOT, out of general principle. It’s set in AMERICA? Bish, please. Let’s just move “Downton Abbey” to the Hamptons, amirite?
• Isn’t “Downton Abbey” amazing? You can talk about that here, if you’ve never read Shopaholic and don’t plan on it.
• If you didn’t have an inner life or a conscience, who would you kill, and why? What would your life look like?
• There’s always a possibility that someone reading “Classic Trash” actually lacks an inner life or a conscience. Could you tell us a little bit about it? Apparently, there are more of you people than we can possibly imagine!
• I just rotate a series of Gap t-shirts and Banana Republic jeans, so I can’t tell. Does Becky have good taste in fashion, or is this a Claudia Kishi thing, and you don’t notice until later?
• Did you ever do crack with Bill Clegg? Would you?
• I didn’t even get into the really fun part of the book, which is the determined, polite, increasingly frantic series of letters from her bank manager that begin each chapter. Derek Smeath! Aren’t those great?
• Remember when I said she was devoid of sexuality? I had forgotten the part where she attempts to straight-up date-rape a nice young man. “Thinking back, perhaps it look me longer than it should have to guess that he wasn’t playing ball, so to speak. In fact, he actually had to punch me in the face to get me off him — although he was very apologetic about it afterward.” Oh, young man. Please get some therapy and find the right words to describe your experience.

Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.