I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for this, the second of Ruth Leigh’s contemporary novels about Isabella M Smugge, lifestyle blogger and instagram influencer. The Trials of Isabella M Smugge is published by Instant Apostle.
I found the previous Isabella book a surprise, expecting a high farcical content: instead, it was a poignant and touching story of about contemporary family life and relationships. Fans of the first book will find this follow-up exceeds all their expectations.
I was intrigued by how Ruth chooses to handle the character of Isabella: lifestyle blogger and Instagram influencer, a style guru with enormous expertise in fashion, interior decor, and haute cuisine. Ruth is acutely observant about our consumer society, obsessed with brands, trends and image. She is brimming with phrases like ”carefully curated personal appearances”; “doyenne of the lifestyle blogging world”, “so not me”; “I was the first to spot that seagrass was over”; “my trademark eye for a good finish”; “conceptual layered pieces”; “a delightfully on-trend and vibey air”. I did love this, and it often made me laugh out loud.
Behind it all, we feel great sympathy for Isabella herself, in her increasingly chaotic personal life: betrayed by her husband, coping with an unexpected baby on the way, targeted by a vicious gossip columnist, and trying to rebuild her life as a single mother. Alongside all this, her drive to keep up her perfect online image becomes increasingly ridiculous.
Johnnie, her faithless, charming, hedge-fund-manager husband, masquerades as protective but in fact is emotionally manipulative and controlling. Around Isabella and her family, the author develops a cast of characters who either support or goad or torment her, some leading her along the path to true authenticity, others urging her to negative behaviour and values.
Ironically, Isabella appears to be “a woman in control”, on top of things, telling other people how to attain high society‘s false idea of perfection; yet in reality we can see she is not in control at all. She is not liberated in the true sense of the word, she is enslaved by what her husband thinks of her, and is rarely true to herself. We just want her to break through the web of artificiality she weaves around herself, to become real and honest about who and what she truly is.
As the story builds, the author includes sharp and waspish descriptions, especially of church services and Christians praying. Yet it is Christian friends who become a lifeline to Isabella. Following childbirth she suffers what many would recognise as postnatal depression: nothing she has to say about her baby is loving: the only things she notices are very negative and even cynical. Then we feel a great sense of relief when Isabella’s friend Nicki speaks the truth to Isabella at last, about herself, and Johnnie.
This is very much a book about family life and friendship as well as growing self-knowledge. I do like the end, very much: it is clever and perceptive, and the signs of transformation in Isabella may give rise to sparks of amusement and recognition in the reader.
A highly recommended book. You may find it online among contemporary women’s fiction.
Ruth may be found on Facebook as Ruth Leigh Writes and as @ruthleighwrites on Twitter and Instagram. You can visit her website at ruthleighwrites.co.uk if you would like to order a signed copy of the book.
Published by Instant Apostle, Ruth’s books are widely available in bookshops and all online book retail stores as well as from her website.