* Prices may differ from that shown
Madeleine Wickham is the real name of the author Sophie Kinsella, best known for her shopaholic books. I have read some of her books published under both names, but this wasn't one I had previously read.When I saw this recently in a charity shop, I decided to give it a go, even though the blurb didn't sound the most interesting of stories. The Plot This book tells the story of Jonathan and Liz Chambers, both teachers who have recently decided to buy a teaching academy which also has accommodation above. In order to make everything balance, they need to sell their house, but the market hasn't been kind. A chance meeting with Marcus Witherstone, the owner of their local estate agents provides a solution ? he suggests renting the house out to some people he knew that were looking to move to the suburbs. The arrival of Piers Prentice, an actor, his wife Ginny, who works in PR and their friend/hanger-on Duncan to the town doesn't make much impact, but it seems to be life changing for some characters - Liz in particular is finding her life is changing beyond her wildest dreams. Meanwhile Jonathan and Liz's daughter Alice, upset at having to move away from the house she grew up in and into a poky flat above the school, is spending more and more time back at her old house, mainly staying in the garage.That is until the night that she is caught by the new tenants, who rather than getting annoyed or upset with her trespassing, welcome her into their home. Alice finds herself getting closer to the tenants, and in particular, Piers. My thoughts This is one of those books where I read through it partly because I felt I had to. I might not have bothered at all had it not been the only reading material I had taken with me on a recent journey to London. I found this book very slow to start, and a few times, I did feel like giving up, as the story got very boring. However, I stuck with it, and the story did start to improve around the halfway mark, and I felt that I could relate more to the story. It did end fairly suddenly though, and considering the detail that was used through the book about the characters, the ending didn't give much away. While there aren't the fireworks that the book hints at, the book has a nice ending, and while it's not what I expected to see, it probably is the best way the book could end. This book was an okay read, but I wouldn't be in a hurry to read it again. The first half of the book dragged on, and while the second part was more interesting, I don't think the book ever reached its full potential. I have read some other Madeleine Wickham books and enjoyed them, I just think this one had a poor subject matter and poor characters.
This book was bought for me by my husband and I was pleased to see that it was written by Sophie Kinsella, an author I have heard positive things about. Having read 'The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic' and not enjoying it as much as I thought I would, I hoped that this book would appeal to me more. The book is actually written by Sophie Kinsella writing as Madeleine Wickham, which is actually her real name (confused yet?). At the start of the book, Madeleine/Sophie says that she has written under two different names because the Madeleine Wickham books are in a different style to her Sophie Kinsella books. I don't really see the point in this, but that's just my personal opinion.
At the start of the book, we see Liz sitting in an estate agent's office, the realisation of her financial situation dawning on her. Liz and Jonathan Chambers purchased a tutorial college, in order to run it themselves, and the plan was that they would live in the flat at the college and sell their home. They are currently paying the mortgage for the college and also for their previous home, and desparately need to sell their house, as they can't afford to pay for two mortgages. However, things aren't going to plan, as the property market has been in decline and so the value of their house has dropped considerably, meaning that nobody is willing to pay the money they need the house to fetch in order to be able to afford the mortgage of the tutorial college.
It is here at the estate agents that Liz first meets Marcus. Marcus Witherstone is one of the owners of the estate agency firm. He exudes confidence, and Liz can tell straight away that he is somebody important. As a result of owning the estate agency firm, Marcus lives a lifestyle that many people can only dream about, full of luxurious cars, expensive clothes and famous restaurants. Marcus is married to Anthea and has two children, but this doesn't stop him from partaking in affairs, and sitting alone one day in an empty house with Liz plus a full bottle of champagne means things are about to get interesting. The difference between Liz's dingy flat and Marcus' lavish lifestyle means that Liz is soon craving for a way of life that Jonathan can't provide.
In order to provide a solution to Liz and Jonathan's financial troubles, Marcus offers to find tennants for their house, so that the rent they generate will be able to cover their mortgage payments. Marcus is able to source two tennants, Ginny and Piers, who soon move into the house. Whilst Jonathan is busy trying to get the college up and running to it's full potential, and Liz is busy fantasizing about a new life, Alice, their teenage daughter, is busy making friends with the tennants at their old house. Spending time with lovely Ginny, handsome Piers and their hilariously camp friend Duncan is so much better, Alice feels, than spending time with her embarrassing and boring parents. Piers is currently an unemployed actor who is waiting for his next big break, which he suddenly appears to be on the brink of achieving, and with the possibility of him becoming a household name, Alice's feelings for him grow even stronger.
Marcus is becoming fed up with his boring work life and decides he wants a bit more excitement in his life than just selling houses. He is offered a risky and more dangerous way of making quick money, and he has to decide whether or not it is worth the risk. As the story continues, Marcus' affair with Liz becomes more and more tricky to handle, and having to manage this as well as the decision as to whether to engage in the business he is offered by a rather troublesome individual means that is it intriguing as to how things will turn out in the end.
I really enjoyed this book. I liked the way the plot had twists and turns, and there were several issues and stories on the go at once. Because there are a number of important characters throughout the book, I sometimes struggled to remember who was who, but after a while it is easy to pick up who each character is. I have to say that my favourite character is this book was probably Duncan. He was so camp and always saying and doing hilarious things, and he sounds just like Louis Spence! I found Liz to be a fairly likeable character at the start, although I soon started to become annoyed with her delusions of gaining Marcus's lifestyle, without a care for her husband who was working so tirelessly to turn the tutorial college into a successful business, and who seemed like a very genuine and hardworking person. Marcus was a very hard person to like due to his adulterous ways, but his wife, Anthea was also very hard to like, due to her tireless demands on their two sons to be the most successful boys at school. Again, Alice wasn't particularly a likeable character because of her constant whinging, and I know that teenagers can be grumpy but Alice is just plain miserable all the time and doesn't seem to care about her parents.Whereas I kept putting Sophie Kinsella's 'The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic' book down and not bothering to pick it up again for a while, I was intrigued with this story as to how things would turn out for all of the characters, and I couldn't wait to find out what would happen at the end.
Publisher: Black Swan