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Come On Wendy - You Can Do Far Better Than This
Filthy Rich - Wendy Holden
Member Name: missrarr
Filthy Rich - Wendy Holden
Advantages: Light hearted escapism if you don't mind a plot that you could have written yourself
Disadvantages: Weak characters, obvious plot, stereotypes abound...
My total thirst for all things bookish continues, although I recently made a huge departure from hefty history-laced mysteries and decided that, during a very heavy workload period at the ranch (oh how I wish it were a ranch), I required something a bit lighter. I had read more than one Wendy Holden novel before and I appreciated her characters and their dry wit, as well as the writer's taste for proper caricatures of modern celebrity.
So it was that I picked up Filthy Rich in a charity shop recently.
***ABOUT THE AUTHOR***
NOT to be confused with another writer of the same name, one who has produced twenty-five books on "real" issues and people, including one work on abortion that was banned across the entire of Ireland.
This Wendy Holden is of an entirely less substantial style, although still a fine writer in her genre and a best-selling one at that.
Having been favourably compared with Jilly Cooper, she too has a healthily-sized catalogue of work to her name and is prone to cute titles such as "Bad Heir Day" and "Azur Like It". This is unashamed chicklit, but her readable, affable style makes her one of the few writers of that ilk that I can usually happily enjoy.
Having popped to wendyholden.net, to see her twitter feed most recently updated with news that her stolen Chelsea tractor replacements, complete with nine seats, has arrived, I am starting to feel less fond of her. I sincerely hope it is plastered in mud before long, or she and I are going to fall out. Learning that, in her journalist years, she also basically wrote Tara Palmer-Tompkinson's column for her has also lessened my affection. She moved into books with Simply Divine, which features one of her recurring characters and one of the biggest send-ups of celeb culture I've read, and now comfortable in her role as one of the leading names in her genre she lives with her family in what sounds like an infuriatingly gorgeous house in Derbyshire.
You can go off people.
Holden crafts her latest romcom tale in a Midlands village called Allsop. Our cast include Mary, the sweet, pretty and unassuming former London Sothebys secretary who met a not-so-wealthy landowner when sent to assess some artwork and married him within weeks. Her husband, the hopeless but likeable posh boy Monty, continues to live in the family pile - Weston Underwood - even as the money dries up and the house starts to fall down around them. A likeable pair of characters, we meet them ten years after their whirlwind romance when the house is in further disrepair and finances even more so, and the two still are without the child they both want so much.
In the village near the estate, Americans Benny and Beth Ferraro purchase a cottage getaway from their London Monday-to-Friday. As Beth hurries to pack every inch of Cath Kidston produce into her weekend home, she enrages the local thundering lunatic Morag, an eco-obsessive with serious hypocrisy issues. Not just eco issues, but financial, fascist, matriarchal, religious, modernist...if you can in any way shape or form get your undergarments in a knot over something, she will, and proceed to make everyone's life a nightmare as a result. Her hopeless and long-suffering husband Gid is almost as bad, and the main victim in it all is their daughter, who by some remarkable evidence of nature against nurture being a real phenomenon, seems relatively sane. Obviously, the loaded Americans are the perfect target for her wrath.
Morag hasn't seen the last interloper into village life though. About to hit with a serious impact is London hyper-WAG Alexandra, determined that an enforced move to the Midlands because of her husband's transfer will kick start a career that refuses to start and also be her route to lady of the manor status and OK! front covers.
Also new to the village is Catherine. Head Teacher of the local primary, her heartstrings are pulled by the plight of a troublesome boy newly fostered into the village. Hated by every other teacher and most other pupils' parents, it seems impossible that anyone will break through his tough exterior to the obvious issues below.
Someone else with issues is a local solicitor, Philip, still mourning the loss of his wife in an accident a year previously. Throw in a couple of handfuls of other locals to ease the passage of the story and a turn of events that knots them all together and you have Filthy Rich.
Sorry Wendy. It's not your nine-seater juggernaut nor your rural idyll that makes me write this. It's that you've turned out a seriously sub-standard book and I know you can do better.
For me, Filthy Rich is just a bunch of stereotypes gathered together and loosely stitched in place before the "add situation here" instructions are followed to trigger the predictable route to the characters' collective resolution. As far as Holden's WAG characters go, the hair extensions just seem to get longer and the stylist gets more hassle while the florist delivers more flowers than the last one. The convenient singletons get more and more one-dimensional and whilst Mary and Monty and likeable enough, their eventual crisis and subsequent resolution is executed too quickly and without any real depth and human exploration.
Beth and Benny are also lazy characters - she is just a more mature and intelligent version of Alexandra and he is the convenient-to-craft London suit who provides the money. They, too, are granted little by way of explanation towards the end of the book, despite being a catalystic influence to a significant part of the story (which in my opinion occurs too late and thus forces a swift wrapping up of everything before the book goes on too long).
Morag is amusing enough, but she too soon just becomes predictable and boring. Her unhinged obsessiveness with being argumentative and opposed to everything on some swiftly conceived "moral" grounds is at first quite promising but soon it just becomes tiresome and the character's obvious self delusion just isn't amusing enough to carry it.
Philip is likeable enough, but for me there are too many totally flat and hugely stereotypical (90 year old allotment gardeners who YELL A LOT AN' TALK FUNNY INNIT) bit-part players and the whole thing, whilst crafted with Holden's usual likeable and readable tone, is lacking any characters with true dry wit or sharpness or indeed any depth at all. If there had been someone among them with a sharp mind and the odd sarcastic aside, the whole thing might have been lifted, albeit certainly not to the standard of the writer's best work, but considerably more so. A prime candidate would have been Morag's husband, but he is just another of those flat characters which now actually remind me of the ghost in Beetlejuice who was actually about one millimeter thick and disappeared into a tiny crack in the wall.
So I am sorry Wendy. But the more I think about it, the less I find this book to be worthy of the name on the cover. Escapism was offered, yes, but I know that my time could have been spent better re-reading a previous Holden book rather than embarking upon this one.
Available on Kindle, and new through Amazon for £5.99.
Summary: A total let down from a writer capable of far better