Today I'm excited to bring you a review of Ruth Leigh's soon-to-be-published debut novel. Its official launch date is Friday 19 February, but I gleefully read an advance copy in time for the blog tour. So without further ado, let's talk about Issy Smugge...
Meet Isabella Smugge – as in ‘Br-uge-s’, naturally! Instagram influencer, consummate show-off and endearingly self-unaware. With a palatial home, charming husband and three well-mannered children, she is living the Country Life dream. Newly arrived in the country, Isabella is ready to bring a dash of London glamour to the school gate and gain a whole new set of followers – though getting past the instant coffee, terrible hair and own-brand sausage rolls may be a challenge! But as her Latvian au pair’s behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre and a national gossip columnist nurses a grudge, Isabella finds herself in need of true friends and begins to wonder if her life really is as picture-perfect as she thought…
I read this book in two days (OK, I’ll be honest, it was two evenings of staying up way past my bedtime). It’s a fun and fast-paced novel with a protagonist who is shockingly un-self-aware, which encourages the reader to glean between the lines for what might actually be going on right under the main character’s nose.
Isabella Smugge is an Instagram influencer who thinks her life is perfect. She has a big house with a swimming pool and a writing studio, staff to take care of the housework and childcare, and a successful career. She’s a coffee snob – actually, she’s an everything snob, and I found myself relating far more to the tired, make-up-free mums that she looks down on at the school gate.
Somehow, I didn’t end up hating Issy and wishing for a calamitous ending to her story. That might be due to my superior moral character and gracious nature, but I suspect it’s far more to do with Ruth Leigh’s compelling writing style. She’s created a character here who is upbeat, energetic, judgmental, funny, infuriating and engaging all at once. Isabella may not be as relatable as she likes to think, but she does carry it off with a snarky sense of humour that made me cackle with laughter. And meeting some people from very different backgrounds to her own serves to show the way true friendship shapes and influences who we become.
While light and comical throughout, there are some hard-hitting topics covered in a way that grounds the book in a believable world. The complex family dynamics are a real strength of this story, as is the author’s ability to surprise you with a profoundly emotional moment right when you least expect it.
I’m a little torn in writing this review because I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I have A LOT OF FEELINGS about the ending. So let’s just say, if you’ve read the book, get in touch, because I want to talk about those last chapters with someone. And I’m pleased to report that Ruth Leigh is already working on the sequel so we’ll get to see more of Isabella’s exploits before long.
About the author
Ruth Leigh is a novelist, blogger and freelance writer based in beautiful East Suffolk. This is her first novel.
The diary of Isabella M Smugge is published on 19 February 2021 by Instant Apostle. You can buy it here and here or if you'd like a signed copy then email the author directly at email@example.com