The Undomestic Goddess
Samantha Sweeting is a brilliant top City lawyer, one of the finest legal minds of her generation, and she’s been sweating away at Carter Spink for seven years trying to make partner. She’s just on the cusp of that achievement, too, when she makes an enormous error which costs her firm’s client 50 million pounds. As failure is an utterly foreign concept to workaholic Samantha, this huge mistake sends her into a tailspin. She comes out of that spin miles from London getting off of a train in a little picturesque village. She wanders up to a house to ask for a glass of water and an aspirin, and the woman who lives there mistakes her for her housekeeping interviewee. Before she can even shake her head, Samantha is her new employee. The only problem is, Samantha knows nothing about domestic work. She can’t cook, iron, sew, and even the more basic cleaning tasks like vacuuming are a little above her level.
Still, going back to Carter Spink suddenly seems impossible, so Samantha decides to give housekeeping a try. And with a little help from the handsome gardener and his mother, she might have a chance – a chance to make her life something different and possibly even worth living.
The most interesting bits of The Undomestic Goddess are the parts involving both of Samantha’s careers. Samantha’s grayish existence as a law drone is well drawn – she is truly on the treadmill to nowhere. She works every day into the evening. She often pulls overnighters. She never has a weekend off, and her social life is nonexistent. Her workload seems interesting, and Kinsella appears to have done her research because Samantha thinks like a professional lawyer and processes information in a like manner. Her job doesn’t seem slapped on for effect or for plot purposes. This is important because for at least the first half of the book, being a lawyer is all Samantha really is. She has no other dimension. She doesn’t have the time for it.
Samantha’s transformation to housekeeper requires some suspension of disbelief, however. No matter how good Samantha is at self-promotion, it’s unlikely she could just walk into an interview like this one and get the job and the timing of said interview is extremely coincidental. Her initial attempts at housecleaning are comic enough to let these nitpicky points slide. And it’s fun to witness her small successes as she learns to work with her hands and her other senses.
The romantic sub-plot is not quite convincing. Samantha’s love interest is pleasant enough, but character-wise, he’s not fleshed out enough to seem like more than just the human component of her new life: domestic job, domestic guy. And Samantha’s new employers are a bit too good to be true – both too kindly and too dimwitted to be believed. It’s also unlikely that so many people would be interested in helping Samantha manage to be successful in her new role. But sometimes you’ve just gotta go with the fantasy, especially when the author guiding you down this primrose path is so gently witty and amusing in her storytelling ability.
The Undomestic Goddess is a nice story about how huge mistakes can turn into fantastic opportunities. And Samantha’s later dealings with the people from Carter Spink were very emotionally satisfying. Some readers will think this sounds like yet another heroine-leaves-Big-City-finds-love-in-Small-Town story, but it’s really more about figuring out what you want from life and deciding if what you’ve got is getting you there. As such it was very pleasant way to spend an evening.