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21 Feb 2021

Impressive first novel with an unlikely heroine

Ruth Leigh’s debut novel, The Diary of Isabella M Smugge, came as a pleasant surprise.

Isabella, successful lifestyle influencer and social-media addict, may insist her name is pronounced to rhyme with ‘Bruges’, but five minutes in her company convince us otherwise: this woman is smug to the very core of her self-obsessed being. Recently moved from London to the country with her perfect husband, organically fed children and treasured Latvian nanny, she’s everything that any right-thinking person (including the more down-to-earth villagers who are her new neighbours) despises.

Or is she? Is her life as perfect as she would have us believe? And is she really as ghastly as she seems?

You may think you are never going to be able to like this woman, but do persist. Issy’s reminiscence of cutting off one of the school bully’s plaits to protect her younger sister years ago is genuinely touching; the scene when she tells the story to the son who normally thinks she is sooooo embarrassing is hilarious. There may be more to her story than meets the eye.

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