One of the newly discovered joys of being an (almost) published author is finding a whole new group of writer friends. One of these is Ruth Leigh. I have only met her virtually, via messenger and zoom, but she, like me, is a woman of a certain age, who for years only dreamed of writing a book. And now, to her delight, her first novel is out, also published by Instant Apostle, those champions of first time Christian writers.
The diary of Isabella M Smugge is hard to put down. I started and finished it in one weekend, in lieu of the ironing pile (but then my iron blew up – a whole other story – so I had an excuse). The heroine of the title is a woman who seems to have everything any woman could dream of having. Brought up in privilege, money is no issue. She has her rambling Georgian house, with guest wing, swimming pool and gym, set in acres of gorgeous gardens. She has her devilishly handsome, hard working husband and three perfect children. She has her chalet in the alps and her flat in London. She has an au pair, a woman who ‘does’ and a paid gardener. Isabella is fit and attractive and on top of her game when it comes to self care. And most of all, she writes full time, and has been extremely successful, especially with her social media following.
Isabella, as a character, was at first not easy to warm to with her self absorption and seemingly shallow take on life; irritatingly recording every moment of her perfect world with carefully posed photos and half-truth media posts. But Ruth as a writer is witty, funny and engaging. I wanted to read more, because the writing made me smile, and sometimes grimace, and just occasionally laugh out loud. Isabella has just moved from London to a Suffolk village (incidentally, described so well that I was sure I knew some of the inhabitants, despite never having lived in Suffolk!). Many of Isabella’s new neighbours don’t think much of her either and are quick to judge. But she ploughs on regardless, trying to infiltrate village life, if just to maintain her fantasy world with her social media followers. What she finds are people who are genuinely kind, welcoming and supportive. As her perfect life begins to unravel around the edges, relationships are formed that will ultimately become her lifeline.
This book is not all flimsy whimsy. Beneath it all, Isabella is just as vulnerable and prone to hurt as any one of us. Carrying pain from her past and facing heartbreak in her present, Ruth paints Isabella’s character with great insight into the human psyche. Amidst the humorous writing is real pathos. What Isabella really craves is to be loved, even above social media likes (although she isn’t going to abandon her Instagram followers just yet). We can empathise with her in that, and find ourselves rooting for her. Willing her, as her new friends do, to look ultimately to the one true source of unconditional love.
The diary of Isabella M Smugge is a great book and an easy read, but it has an important message. ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’ is the old adage (but not a good one for new authors, I have been discovering). The bible puts it this way ‘Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart’ ( 1 Sam 16:7 NKJV), or in the words of Jesus, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’(Matt 7:1 NKJV). We are all guilty of assuming we know a person by how they appear, and of judging them by our own standards. Beneath the surface we are all the same. People looking for genuine connection, love and empathy. However she may appear, Isabella doesn’t really ‘have it all’ at all.
My one criticism of The diary of Isabella M Smugge? It ends on a cliff -hanger. But then don’t all newly commissioned first drama series do that? So that we cry out for more? I’ll add my voice to that cry. More, Ruth please! My understanding is that Isabella #2 is well and truly in the pipeline. That is good. That is very good.
The diary of Isabella M Smugge is available to buy now direct from the author, and will be available to buy from all good book sources after it’s official publication date of 19th Feb.