The first novel by Sophia Money-Coutts, right, The Plus One, was a fun-filled romp heavily influenced by Bridget Jones, albeit with the posh additions you’d expect of a former Tatler writer: think size 16 knickers and boy troubles, but with a job at a society magazine and a marquess thrown in.
Her second book, What Happens Now?, returns to the same tried-and-tested formula, with one figuratively small but metaphorically massive addition: a baby. Lil, the relatable heroine, wears Zara and lives in Brixton but is a teacher at St Lancelot’s, a private school in Chelsea where the students have names like Cosmo and Phineas, and the mothers are “dressed head-to-toe in lycra, the expensive sort that you didn’t work out in”. When Lil’s boyfriend ups and leaves with “a blonde party girl who never seemed to wear a bra”, Lil downloads a Tinder-style app and goes on a date with a dashing young man. One thing leads to another and after a one-night stand Lil finds herself pregnant.
Of course, given this is a Money-Coutts novel, this is no ordinary dashing young man but Max Rushbrooke: aristocratic explorer, heir to a title and apparent commitment-phobe. Lil decides to keep the baby — lovingly referred to as ET throughout, thanks to alienesque sonograms — and the question of how involved Max will be, both with ET and with Lil, hangs in the balance. The will-they-won’t-they? between the couple feels genuinely considered and it’s not a given how things will end, which, for frothy chick-lit like this, is unusual. ADVERTISINGAds by Teads
Jilly Cooper has declared that Money-Coutts’ sex scenes make her “feel like a nun”, which should be an indication that things get graphic, and fast (by page 26, if you’re wondering). Some of it can feel a bit gratuitous. More carefully drawn, however, is a cast of auxiliary characters that makes the book sing: Lil’s best friend Jess and her hapless brother Clem; her Australian, yoga-loving flatmates; and her university lecturer parents, particularly her stepfather Dennis, who shows that the perfect family does not always present as nuclear.
Money-Coutts is excellent when it comes to skewering upper-class social stereotypes. In the mould of Rachel Johnson and Julian Fellowes, she uses her Tatler experience to witty effect. What Happens Now? may not be the cleverest book you’ll read all summer, but does it earn its place in your beach bag? Absolutely.