It’s always an honour and so exciting to read the work of people you know personally. Novelist and blogger, Ruth Leigh and I are both members of The Association of Christian Writers (ACW) and even before meeting her, I knew that Ruth had deep connections with other writers, many of whom have been raving about her recent novels.
The first is The Diary of Isabella M Smugge.
Following the modern life of a hugely popular and successful social influencer, Leigh’s novel reminds me of the writing style of Giovanna Fletcher. Fun, light-hearted but also deeply serious in moments, exploring the deepest griefs and heartbreaks of the human condition. Isabella’s character is well-defined and real. Leigh does a fantastic job of enabling the reader to build a realistic and immersive vision of Isabella’s ‘picture-perfect’ life. I’ll be honest, there were moments where I felt a deep sadness regarding the modern world we live in. Isabella is constantly thinking about the next piece of content, not even letting her children eat breakfast without things being carefully constructed ‘for the gram’. It was a huge challenge to me as I try to ‘up’ my own Insta game. If we’re looking to be authentic on social media, why? What is our motive? To be successful, or to actually touch people? I’m digressing but Leigh’s central character does bring that challenge into focus.
What struck me most coming way from the first Isabella installment (Leigh has published the second and is working on the third!) was the pressure it must be to be a social influencer. They have a pretty bad reputation in terms of - ‘oh well that’s not a proper job; they make money by doing nothing’ - all those sorts of comments are often associated with that line of work. But, what this book, while fiction, showed loud and clear was that the most successful influencers must work pretty hard. Think about all that content. All the concentrated thinking and time it would take to be relatable and comment on the current trends. It must be exhausting. We talk about people overworking and saying ‘my life is my job’ but for people like Isabella, showcasing their life actually is their job.
So, what happens to their job, and therefore their identity, when their life falls apart?
That’s another question Leigh’s portrayal of this glamorous internet star offers and is no doubt, something she explores further in book two. It’s clear that Isabella’s priorities begin to shift as she explores the meaning of deep friendships and faith. Leigh does that subtly and naturally, which I think is a real skill.
I would recommend Isabella to anyone looking for a fun read that also explores the ability to hide behind the mask of privilege and a sparkling Instagram grid. Isabella comes into her own by the end of this first novel and I’m pretty sure I’m beginning to like her.