It’s a common problem. Bridget Jones remarked on it. Most people have experienced it. When one part of life is going really well, another part falls spectacularly apart. Professionally, a person could be doing fantastic work, making money, feeling good. But her personal life is in shambles. She’s single. Again. And afraid to look for what she might – or might not – find in the murky world of dating. For Lisa, Ashling and Clodagh, women who ostensibly don’t “have it all,” total happiness eludes them. One part of their lives is chugging along; the other is stalled. It seems only time, humor and a heaping helping of humble pie can tip the balances in favor of love and satisfaction.
Plot Overview: Glitz, Glamour and Girls
Ashling Kennedy is the consummate best friend. She is prepared for every disaster with a Mary-Poppin’s-like cavernous bag, she has a tendency to worry, she is loyal and needy and lacking in self-esteem. And she’s single, though she wouldn’t mind having a loving and faithful boyfriend. But for now, Ashling is a girl with a big heart – and maybe even a bigger body – who works as an assistant at fledging magazine “Colleen.”
Lisa Edwards is the polar opposite of her assistant, Ashling. Lisa is the high-powered new editor of “Colleen,” though she views her move from London to Dublin as a demotion. She is slim and svelte and gorgeous, and she maintains such high standards that a normal person – her employees, her ex-husband – can only fall far short. The unpleasant Type-A personality is loath to work at the Irish mag, but ruggedly handsome and cranky editor-in-chief Jack Devine might be her perfect complement. Might be.
At first glance, Clodagh really does have it all. A handsome husband who brings home the big bucks, two lovely children, a beautiful home. But Clodagh fights persistent unhappiness and boredom. There is no passion in suburbia and in motherhood, and the young, flighty woman is desperate for something. Drama. Excitement. An affair.
Criticisms and Compliments
Keyes is the undisputed queen of chick-lit (Sophie Kinsella is a close runner-up; perhaps the “princess” of chick-lit). Keyes typically channels a variety of young, struggling twenty and thirty-somethings, many of whom have professional lives that any other woman would envy. Case in point: the workers at “Colleen” have the luxury of not only working for a glamorous women’s magazine, but they are also spearheading a new publication. Quite an opportunity. But where Keyes would normally tackle a mainstream issue (abuse, rape, suicide, alcoholism), such a topic seems to be missing – or at least not as obvious – in Sushi for Beginners. Rather, this frothy novel looks at the superficial, the surface of a woman’s relationship with her partner, her lover, her friend and her husband. Essentially, no single relationship in perfect; boredom or dissatisfaction inevitably set in, and infidelity is almost a guarantee, but love is worth the fight. Or so it would seem.
The problem with Sushi for Beginners, aside from its lagging first few chapters, is the general unlikeability and stereotypical personalities of the characters. Lisa is just not a sympathetic character; her situation is sympathetic – aside from her “promotion” of sorts to Dublin (who wouldn’t want that?) – but her nasty attitude overpowers her vulnerability. She is, in plain speak, a bitch. Likewise, Clodagh is selfish and insensitive, a woman who could have it all, but still isn’t happy. So what does she do? Turn to what her best friend has and take that. She might be sorry, but not sorry enough to give it back. And Ashling, the only likeable character in the novel, is too much of a chick-lit stereotype: clumsy, bumbling, overweight, single. In true Keyes fashion, however, each character does wind up with her deserved ending – happy or not – which can be immensely satisfying. Still, Sushi for Beginner’s leaves something to be desired.
Sushi for Beginners is certainly not a bad novel; it’s well written and funny and evokes the glamorous world of magazines (not unlike Tasmina Perry’s Daddy’s Girls), but the pacing and the characters bring it down a notch. The Other Side of the Story, The Brightest Star in the Sky and This Charming Man are better reads.
- Keyes, Marian. Sushi for Beginners: A Novel. William Morrow Paperbacks (Reprint edition), 2005 ISBN 9780060555955