"A triumph! There is no better word for this exceptional novel"
Reviewed by Monique Daoust
Posted January 27, 2019
Women's Fiction Contemporary
"Fixie" Farr fixes things. After a personal failure, she
has gone back to live at home and work in the family
houseware store, Farrs, where her older siblings, Jake
and Nicole, make sporadic appearances. When Ryan Chalker,
Fixie's long-time crush flies in from LA, Fixie needs to
calm down, and hops in her favorite café, where she saves
her tablemate's laptop from certain annihilation.
Sebastian Marlowe, the grateful customer, gives Fixie a
blank IOU. When Fixie uses it, she comes to realize what
her late father's motto "Family First" really means.
Sophie Kinsella's unparalleled talent at creating
multidimensional and engaging characters has reached new
heights in the extraordinary I OWE YOU ONE. I don't
recall experiencing such strong visceral reactions to
fictional beings ever before. I wanted to be Fixie's
friend, comfort her, help her not because I pitied her,
but because she was selling herself short and she
deserved better. Some people might view Fixie as weak; I
didn't; however she did let her brother intimidate her,
she unwittingly encouraged her sister's weaknesses but
felt powerless to do otherwise because family came first.
Sometimes it's difficult to deem what's the best course
of action for oneself, for others; we've all been there.
I was outraged, incensed, and oh how I wanted to slap
Jake, the pretentious, condescending snob! How I wanted
to shake Nicole, the beautiful sister with her head in
the clouds. I won't say anything about Ryan or Sebastian;
you be the judge.
Gripping is a word I seldom associate with Women's
Fiction -- at least, not as far as I'm concerned -- but I
OWE YOU ONE is just that -- because of the exceptionally
well-crafted characters, and Sophie Kinsella's ability to
never repeat herself. The author's writing is flawless,
as always; the story progresses at lightning speed; I was
overwhelmed with emotions as I had accompanied Fixie on
her journey, hoping that everything would work out for
her in the end. Few authors can do that for me, and none
as well as Sophie Kinsella.
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie
Kinsella comes an irresistible story of love and empowerment
about a young woman with a complicated family, a handsome
man who might be “the one,” and an IOU that changes
Fixie Farr has always lived by her father’s motto: “Family
first.” And since her dad passed away, leaving his charming
housewares store in the hands of his wife and children,
Fixie spends all her time picking up the slack from her
siblings instead of striking out on her own. The way Fixie
sees it, if she doesn’t take care of her father’s legacy,
It’s simply not in Fixie’s nature to say no to people. So
when a handsome stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch
his laptop for a moment, she not only agrees—she ends up
saving it from certain disaster. To thank Fixie for her
quick thinking, the computer’s owner, Sebastian, an
investment manager, scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and
attaches his business card. Fixie laughs it off—she’d never
actually claim an IOU from a stranger. Would she?
But then Fixie’s childhood crush, Ryan, comes back into her
life, and his lack of a profession pushes all of Fixie’s
buttons. As always, she wants nothing for herself—but she’d
love Seb to give Ryan a job. No sooner has Seb agreed than
the tables are turned once more and a new series of IOUs
between Seb and Fixie—from small favors to life-changing
moments—ensues. Soon Fixie, Ms. Fixit for everyone else, is
torn between her family and the life she really wants. Does
she have the courage to take a stand? Will she finally grab
the life, and love, she really wants?
The trouble with me is, I can't let things go. They bug me.
I see problems and I want to fix them, right here, right
now. My nickname isn't Fixie for nothing.
I mean, this can be a good thing. For example, at my best
friend Hannah's wedding, I got to the reception and
instantly saw that only half the tables had flowers. I ran
around sorting it before the rest of the guests arrived, and
in her speech, Hannah thanked me for dealing with
"Flowergate." So that was OK.
On the other hand, there was the time I brushed a piece of
fluff off the leg of a woman sitting next to me by the pool
at a spa day. I was just trying to be helpful. Only it
turned out it wasn't a piece of fluff; it was a pubic hair
growing halfway down her thigh. And then I made things worse
by saying, "Sorry! I thought that was a piece of fluff," and
she went kind of purple, and two nearby women turned to
I shouldn't have said anything. I see that now.
Anyway. So this is my quirk. This is my flaw. Things bug me.
And right now the thing that's bugging me is a Coke can.
It's been left on the top shelf of the leisure section of
our shop, in front of a chessboard propped up for display.
Not only that, the chessboard is covered with a brown stain.
Obviously someone's opened the can or dumped it down too
hard and it's splattered everywhere and they haven't cleared
it up. Who?
As I look around the shop with narrowed eyes, I fully
suspect Greg, our senior assistant. Greg drinks some kind of
beverage all day long. If he's not clutching a can, it's
noxious filter coffee in an insulated cup decorated with
camouflage and webbing, as though he's in the army, not
working in a household store in Acton. He's always leaving
it about the place, or even thrusting it at customers and
saying, "Hold this a mo," while he gets a saucepan down off
the display for them. I've told him not to.
Anyway. Not the time for recriminations. Whoever dumped that
Coke can (Greg, definitely Greg), it's caused a nasty stain,
just when our important visitors are about to arrive.
And, yes, I know it's on a high shelf. I know it's not
obvious. I know most people would shrug it off. They'd say:
"It's not a big deal. Let's get some perspective."
I've never been great at perspective.
I'm trying hard not to look at it but to focus instead on
the rest of the shop, which looks gleamingly clean. A little
shambolic, maybe, but then, that's the style of our all-
purpose family shop. (Family-owned since 1985, it says on
our window.) We stock a lot of different items, from knives
to aprons to candlesticks, and they all need to go
I suddenly catch sight of an old man in a mac in the kitchen
section. He's reaching with a shaking hand for a plain white
mug, and I hurry over to get it for him.
"Here you are," I say with a friendly smile. "I can take
that to the till for you. Do you need any more mugs? Or can
I help you with anything else?"
"No, thank you, love," he says in a quavering voice. "I only
need the one mug."
"Is white your favorite color?" I gently press, because
there's something so poignant about buying one plain white
mug that I can't bear it.
"Well." His gaze roams doubtfully over the display. "I do
like a brown mug."
"This one maybe?" I retrieve a brown earthenware mug that he
probably discounted because it was too far out of reach.
It's solid, with a nice big handle. It looks like a cozy
The man's eyes light up, and I think, I knew it. When your
life is restricted, something like a mug choice becomes
"It's a pound more expensive," I tell him. "It's £4.99. Is
Because you never take anything for granted. You never
assume. Dad taught me that.
"That's fine, love." He smiles back. "That's fine."
"Great! Well, come this way…."
I lead him carefully down the narrow aisle, keeping my eyes
fixed on danger points. Which isn't quite the selfless
gesture it might seem—this man is a knocker-overer. You can
tell as soon as you lay eyes on him. Trembling hands,
uncertain gaze, shabby old trolley that he's pulling behind
him…all the signs of a classic knocker-overer. And the last
thing I need is a floor full of smashed crockery. Not with
Jake's visitors arriving any moment.
I smile brightly at the man, hiding my innermost thoughts,
although the very word Jake passing through my brain has
made my stomach clench with nerves. It always happens. I
think Jake and my stomach clenches. I'm used to it by now,
although I don't know if it's normal. I don't know how other
people feel about their siblings. My best friend, Hannah,
hasn't got any, and it's not the kind of question you ask
random people, is it? "How do your siblings make you feel?
Kind of gnawed-up and anxious and wary?" But that's
definitely how my brother, Jake, makes me feel. Nicole
doesn't make me feel anxious, but she does make me feel
gnawed-up and, quite often, like hitting something.
To sum up, neither of them makes me feel good.
Maybe it's because both of them are older than me and were
tough acts to follow. When I started at secondary school,
aged eleven, Jake was sixteen and the star of the football
team. Nicole was fifteen, stunningly beautiful, and had been
scouted as a model. Everyone in the school wanted to be her
friend. People would say to me, in awed tones, "Is Jake Farr
your brother? Is Nicole Farr your sister?"
Nicole was as drifty and vague then as she is now, but Jake
dominated everything. He was focused. Bright-eyed. Quick to
anger. I'll always remember the time he got in a row with
Mum and went and kicked a can around the street outside,
shouting swear words into the night sky. I watched him from
an upstairs window, gripped and a bit terrified. I'm twenty-
seven now, but you never really leave your inner eleven-
year-old, do you?
And of course there are other reasons for me to feel rubbish
around Jake. Tangible reasons. Financial reasons.
Which I will not think about now. Instead, I smile at the
old man, trying to make him feel that I have all the time in
the world. Like Dad would have done.
Morag rings up the price and the man gets out an old leather
"Fifty…" I hear him saying as he peers at a coin. "Is that a
"Let's have a look, love," says Morag in her reassuring way.
Morag's been with us for seven years. She was a customer
first and applied when she saw an ad pinned up on a
noticeboard. Now she's assistant manager and does all the
buying for greeting cards—she has a brilliant eye. "No,
that's a ten-pence," she says kindly to the old man. "Have
you got another pound coin in there?"
My eyes swivel up to the Coke can and stained chessboard
again. It doesn't matter, I tell myself. There isn't time to
sort it now. And the visitors won't notice it. They're
coming to show us their range of olive oils, not inspect the
place. Just ignore it, Fixie.
Oh God, but I can't. It's driving me nuts.
My eye keeps flicking upward to it. My fingers are doing
that thing they do whenever I'm desperate to fix something,
when some situation or other is driving me mad. They drum
each other feverishly. And my feet do a weird stepping
motion: forward-across-back, forward-across-back.
I've been like this since I was a little kid. It's bigger
than me. I know it would be mad to drag a ladder out, get a
bucket and water, and clean the stain up, when the visitors
might arrive at any moment. I know this.
"Greg!" As he appears from behind the glassware section, my
voice shoots out before I can stop it. "Quick! Get a
stepladder. I need to clean up that stain."
Greg looks up to where I'm pointing and gives a guilty jump
as he sees the Coke can.
"That wasn't me," he says at once. "It definitely wasn't
me." Then he pauses before adding, "I mean, if it was, I
The thing about Greg is, he's very loyal to the shop and he
works really long hours, so I forgive him quite a lot.
"Doesn't matter who it was," I say briskly. "Let's just get
rid of it."
"OK," Greg says, as though digesting this. "Yeah. But aren't
those people about to arrive?"
"Yes, which is why we need to be quick. We need to hurry."
"OK," says Greg again, not moving a muscle. "Yeah. Got you.
This is a very good question. Jake is the one who met these
olive-oil people in the first place. In a bar, apparently.
He's the one who set up this meeting. And here he isn't.
But family loyalty keeps me from saying any of this aloud.
Family loyalty is a big thing in my life. Maybe the biggest
thing. Some people hear the Lord Jesus guiding them; I hear
my dad, before he died, saying in his East End accent:
Family is it, Fixie. Family is what drives us. Family is
Family loyalty is basically our religion.
"He's always landing you in it, Jake is," Greg mutters. "You
never know when he's going to turn up. Can't rely on him.
We're short-staffed today too, what with your mum taking the
All of this might be true, but I can hear Dad's voice in my
head again: Family first, Fixie. Protect the family in
public. Have it out with them later, in private.
"Jake does his own hours," I remind Greg. "It's all agreed."
All of us Farrs work in the shop—Mum, me, Jake, and Nicole—
but only Mum and I are full-time. Jake calls himself our
"consultant." He has another business of his own and he's
doing an MBA online, and he pops in when he can. And Nicole
is doing a yoga-instructor course Monday to Friday, so she
can only come in at weekends. Which she does sometimes.
"I expect he's on his way," I add briskly. "Anyway, we've
just got to deal with it. Come on! Ladder!"
As Greg drags a stepladder across the shop floor, I hurry to
our back room and run some hot water into a bucket. I just
need to dash up the ladder, wipe the stain away, grab the
can, jump down, and clear everything before the visitors
The leisure section is a bit incongruous, surrounded as it
is by tea towels and jam-making kits. But it was Dad who set
it up that way, so we've never changed it. Dad loved a good
board game. He always said board games are as essential to a
household as spoons. Customers would come in for a kettle
and leave with Monopoly too.
And ever since he died, nine years ago now, we've tried to
keep the shop just as he created it. We still sell licorice
allsorts. We still have a tiny hardware section. And we
still stock the leisure section with games, balls, and water
The thing about Dad was, he could sell anything to anyone.
He was a charmer. But not a flashy, dishonest charmer; a
genuine charmer. He believed in every product he sold. He
wanted to make people happy. He did make people happy. He
created a community in this little corner of West London (he
called himself an "immigrant," being East End born), and
it's still going. Even if the customers who really knew Dad
are fewer every year.
"OK," I say, hurrying out to the shop floor with the bucket.
"This won't take a sec."
I dash up the steps of the ladder and start scrubbing at the
brown stain. I can see Morag below me, demonstrating a
paring knife to a customer, and I resist the urge to join in
the conversation. I know about knives; I've done chef
training. But you can't be everywhere at once, and—
"They're here," announces Greg. "There's a car pulling into
the parking space."
It was Jake who insisted we reserve our only parking spot
for these olive-oil people. They'll have asked, "Do you have
parking?" and he won't have wanted to say, "Only one space,"
because he's pretentious that way, so he'll have said
airily, "Of course!" as though we've got an underground
"No problem," I say breathlessly. "I'm done. All good."
I dump the cloth and the Coke can into the bucket and
swiftly start descending. There. That took no time, and now
it won't bug me and—
"Careful on that ladder."
I hear Greg's voice below, but he's always regaling us with
stupid health-and-safety rules he's read online, so I don't
alter my step or my pace until he shouts, "Stop!" sounding
"Fixie!" Stacey yells from the till. She's another of our
sales assistants and you can't miss her piercing nasal
voice. "Look out!"
As my head whips round, it takes me a moment to comprehend
what I've done. I've snagged my sleeve on a netball hoop,
which has caught on the handle of a massive tub of bouncy
balls. And now it's tipping off the shelf…there's nothing I
can do to stop it, shit…
"Oh my God!"
I lift my spare hand to protect myself from a deluge of
little rubber balls. They're bouncing on my head, my
shoulders, all over the shop. How come we have so many of
the bloody things, anyway?
As I reach the bottom of the ladder, I look around in
horror. It's a miracle that nothing's been smashed. Even so,
the floor is a carpet of bouncy balls.
"Quick!" I instruct Greg and Stacey. "Teamwork! Pick them
up! I'll go and head off the visitors."
As I hurry toward the door, Greg and Stacey don't look
anything like a team—in fact, they look like an anti-team.
They keep bumping into each other and cursing. Greg is
hastily stuffing balls down his shirtfront and in his
trouser pockets and I yell, "Put them back in the tub!"
"I didn't even notice that Coke stain," volunteers Stacey as
I pass, with one of her shrugs. "You should have left it."
"Is that helpful?" I want to retort. But I don't. For a
start, Stacey's a good worker and worth keeping on side. You
just have to deal with what Mum and I call the SIMs
(Stacey's Inappropriate Moments).
But of course the real reason I say nothing is that she's
right. I should have left it. I just can't help fixing
things. It's my flaw. It's who I am.
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