Instagram influencers and lifestyle bloggers were in the news recently for all the wrong reasons when many sought to escape the UK lockdown by heading to Dubai for ‘work’. Presenting a minutely manicured perfection, they sell us a dream that surely even their reality can never truly live up to. This is the gap that new author Ruth Leigh explores to hilarious and poignant effect in The Diary of Isabella M. Smugge.
Isabella Smugge (as in ‘Br-uge-s’, naturally!), is a fulltime 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 Suffolk, 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…
‘The crux of the book,’ comments Ruth, ‘is that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Isabella appears to have it all, to lead a charmed life, but underneath that glossy veneer, there is a damaged little girl who yearns to be loved.’ And when we meet her mother, we begin to understand why! As we are drawn ever further into Isabella’s cheerfully curated world, profound questions of friendship, parenting and the impact of social media are sharply, comically and sensitively addressed.
And when Isabella finds herself confronted by painful realities, a secondary theme emerges as she begins to question her own and others’ actions. ‘I liked the idea of a person who is very rooted in consumer culture trying to puzzle out faith,’ says Ruth. But this is not a ‘preachy’ book, and the author subtly explores these questions through Isabella’s growing friendship with a new acquaintance’s simple, authentic Christian living.
At a time when any number of glossy books from social media influencers and bloggers are filling the shelves, but many are struggling with the aggravated chaos of home-schooling and lockdown living, The Diary of Isabella M. Smugge offers the humorous escape and potent antidote to false perfection that we all need.
Isabella may be married with kids, but she has more than a passing resemblance to Bridget Jones. As author and comedian Paul Karensa comments, Ruth’s novel is, ‘funny, smart, insightful. A Bridget Jones’s Diary for the Age of Influencers. Recommended as a much-needed tonic, with a gin on the side’!