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  Books   02 Dec 2023  Book Review | A barely-there romance, but a rip-roaring stressbuster!

Book Review | A barely-there romance, but a rip-roaring stressbuster!

THE ASIAN AGE. | KUSHAL GULAB
Published : Dec 2, 2023, 10:30 pm IST
Updated : Dec 2, 2023, 10:30 pm IST

The Burnout is far, far from perfect. But it’s so funny that even my strict inner editor doesn’t care.

Cover photo of 'The Burnout' by Sophie Kinsella. (Image by Arrangement)
 Cover photo of 'The Burnout' by Sophie Kinsella. (Image by Arrangement)

The fact that I’m in fairly good humour as I write this review is entirely due to the book I’m reviewing — The Burnout by Sophie Kinsella. I read it last week as I struggled to maintain my sanity in dealing with a recalcitrant insurance agency and it made me laugh so hysterically — I actually choked, gasped for breath, clutched my stomach, and nearly fell off my chair — that it achieved a kind of miracle. It changed my mood, which is no small thing.

When I started it, I wasn’t expecting to be so thoroughly entertained. I’ve read some of Sophie Kinsella’s novels before and while I enjoyed them well enough at the time, they were unmemorable. Plus, when I first heard of The Burnout on social media some months ago, I was left with the impression that it would be slightly depressing given the heaviness of the topic it deals with — that gigantic, smothering blanket of stress, exhaustion, and brain fog that turns sufferers into zombies. Even the first chapter of the book had me unimpressed. So Sasha, the protagonist of the novel, is overwhelmed by work and life? So what? Who isn’t?

But from the second chapter onwards, I was bellowing with laughter. My guffaws started with the scene in which Sasha finally cracks and darts into a convent, begging to work as a nun even though she's not a Catholic and rarely goes to church anyway, just so she can safely quit her job, and continued for the next 300-odd pages, only ceasing for brief intervals when the author brought romance to the fore.

Yes, there is romance. Apparently The Burnout is a romcom. Now, I have nothing against romance — in fact, I love love as long as it happens to other people — but as a subplot in this particular book, the romance feels forced. Fortunately, there’s not a lot of whining about the unrequited love component of the romance, and whatever there is is so trite that you can easily skim through those pages. Unfortunately, this means that the story of Sasha's recovery from burn out is rather diluted.

But that’s okay because the strength of The Burnout lies not in its plot and story, but in the situations the author cooks up for the protagonist and the dialogue of many of the characters. After Sasha cracks up at work, she’s diagnosed as burnt out and is immediately made by her mother to download a wellness app that promises to have her fit and fine in 30 days. Sasha’s mother also packs her off to the seaside resort where her family used to go every summer when her father was alive. Rather than stay at the bed and breakfast where her family had usually put up, however, Sasha is convinced by her mother to book into the local grand hotel, a place so deluxe that the family could only afford to visit it once every holiday for a teatime treat. To ensure that the hotel staff treat her daughter not just with respect but also with servility, Sasha’s mother poses as Sasha’s assistant while making the booking, demanding, among other things, a smoothie every morning made with fresh, organic kale, and something called noni juice, which Sasha has never heard of before and which sounds vulgar in a vague sort of way.

When Sasha arrives at The Rilston, however, she finds it the very opposite of what it used to be. Now falling apart, it’s staffed by some very eccentric but desperately helpful people, so impressed by Sasha’s wellness queen status as relayed by her mother/assistant that even when they get things wrong (a smoothie of frozen peas rather than fresh, organic kale), Sasha feels she must live up to the image.

With this as the backdrop, the story of Sasha’s recovery (and romance, but ignore that, really) plays out to hilarious effect, with some passages so side-splitting that I had no option but to read them aloud to my long-suffering father who couldn’t understand a word of what I was saying because I was giggling so hard.

The Burnout is far, far from perfect. But it’s so funny that even my strict inner editor doesn’t care.

The Burnout

By Sophie Kinsella

Penguin India

pp. 384; Rs 799

Tags: book review 2023, rom com, sophie kinsella