Quick Review: SHOPGIRL by Steve Martin (Hyperion/W&N)

MartinS-ShopgirlUSAn interesting, enjoyable novella

Mirabelle is the ‘shopgirl’ of the title, a young woman, beautiful in a wallflowerish kind of way, who works behind the glove counter at Neiman Marcus, selling things that nobody buys anymore…?

Mirabelle captures the attention of Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman almost twice her age. As they tentatively embark on a relationship, they both struggle to decipher the language of love — with consequences that are both comic and heartbreaking. Filled with the kind of witty, discerning observations that have brought Steve Martin critical success, Shopgirl is a work of disarming tenderness.

I picked this up on a whim the other week, and started reading it right away. It’s an interesting, short glimpse of a Los Angeles life. Mirabelle’s story is not one of Hollywood or celebrity life/excess. Rather, it is a calm story of a young woman looking for a place in Los Angeles life. She’s working a job that is not, to say the least, scintillating. She is dating a rather dull, narcissistic wannabe, but falls into the orbit of a wealthy Seattle businessman who lives part-time in LA. It’s an endearing, well-told story that I very much enjoyed.

Being a fan of Martin’s movies, I couldn’t help but read the novella in his voice, and it worked wonderfully. It is a story that is sweet and sad, awkward and hopeful. Mirabelle’s ennui is familiar to many, I’m sure (especially for LA inhabitants). The author’s humour comes through brilliantly, and there were a number of very funny moments — for example, the love scene between Mirabelle and Jeremy… and the cat. It’s a gentle humour, as opposed to Martin’s more zany comedy (as can be found, for example, in Pure Drivel).

Martin writes very well, and his prose is excellent. The story’s pace is not rushed, and I ended up savouring the story over a longer period than I would usually for such a short book. I really enjoyed it.

The relationships are realistic and well-presented. The characters’ inner-lives are interesting, revealing and honest — their peculiar fantasies, their less-than-noble thoughts, all are presented fairly. Mirabelle is an interesting character and narrator. The story doesn’t have much of an ending, but it works — think of this more as a short glimpse into the lives of the characters, as opposed to a complete narrative.

Overall, I thought this was a very good book. Certainly recommended for anyone looking for a short story focused on characters. I’m eager to read Martin’s other books — The Pleasure of My Company and An Object of Beauty (both of which I have since picked up).


Shopgirl is published by Hyperion in the US, and W&N in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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