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This is a review of the book titled 'The Gatecrasher' by Sophie Kinsella writing as Madeleine Wickham. At the beginning of the book, Sophie explains how she uses the different names for different styles of writing, however her real name is Madeleine Wickham (are you with me so far)... Sophie is well known for writing the Shopaholic series which really took off so she has relaunched the Madeleine Wickham titles to gain a few more sales for her earlier novels.
A gift of books - perfect!
I was bought the Gatecrasher as a gift from my Husband who occasionally surprises me with a few brand new lovely books. This time he did well as I usually say 'read it' to him when he buys me books as I have read a lot in my lifetime already.
Also by Madeleine Wickham
Other titles by Madeleine Wickham include 'The Wedding Girl ' (next on the pile) 'Sleeping Arrangements' (read it), Cocktails for Three and this one I'm reviewing.
About this book
The story follows Fleur, a woman of indeterminate age with a 13 year old daughter. Fleur uses men to maintain her lifestyle, to be exact, rich men whom she hunts down at funerals. Whilst they are mourning the demise of their wife, Fleur swoops in and charms them and then runs with as much money as she can relieve them of.
But this time it's different
Fleur meets Richard who is torn between wanting to remember his wife and also finding out new (not good) things about her. In his eyes, Fleur seems to be the perfect women, charming himself, his friends and his family. Everyone loves Fleur but there are just a few things that don't add up.
I found this book quite fun and it got read in a couple of sessions. In a way, it reminded me of the film 'The wedding crashers' in concept. I loved how Fleur was so aloof and inpenetrable, even in the way she treats her daughter who is at boarding school most of the time. She is a woman of mystery and we learn about her taste in funeral hats and black dresses and suits but you never quite find out just what is going on in her head.
Richard's daughter Phillipa is married to the awful Lambert who also has his eye on Richards money. Their marrage is not a good one and he is greedy and awful and no one likes him. I half hoped that Lambert and Fleur would somehow either get together and go off together or that they would both drop each other in it in their combined hunting through Richard's study and documents. It is interesting that they were both money grabbers and seemed to get away with it. I did also want Phillipa to stand up to Lambert's bullying ways.
I wanted more on Zara (Fleur's daughter) and her dad's relationship. I wanted more on Johnny, their gay best friend who they lived with at times when Fleur is not charming the pants off a widowed man. There was too much golfing in the book (Richard lived on a golf course!) and too much on Richard's sister in law Gillian who doesn't really do much in the book but seemed to be on a lot of the pages.
I quite enjoyed reading this book. It wasn't too taxing but I felt like the ending was quite predictable. Whilst I would have preferred something more exiciting to happen I can understand why it needed to end in this way (without giving anything away). I could quite happily NOT read this book again so I don't think it has changed my life in any way. It was far too simplistic to be made into a film and quite formulaic in its format. I would pass this on to a friend to read but wouldn't raise their expectations too much.
Fleur Daxeny spends her days reading the announcements pages in The Times, looking for funerals and memorial services of wealthy women. She has a wardrobe bursting full of black suits and hats, and her game is to prey on rich men, who have recently lost their wives, befriending and charming them when they are at their most vulnerable, taking as much money as she can before disappearing into the night in search of her next conquest.
Richard Favour is Fleur's latest target. A golf-obsessed businessman, Richard has recently lost his wife Emily, and is struggling with his grief. He feels that he did not know Emily quite as well as he should have and is desperate to find out more about the wife he feels he never really knew. When Fleur arrives at the memorial service claiming to have been an old friend of Emily, Richard thinks she could have the answers and asks her out to dinner.
The two become close, and Fleur's presence has an unexpected effect on not only Richard, but his two children Philippa and Anthony, as well as Emily's sister Gillian - as they begin to relax around this glamorous woman in a way they never could when Emily was alive. And Fleur herself is surprised to find herself getting attached to them, and falling into a routine - something she never usually does.
With the family oblivious to Fleur's intentions, Fleur secretly tries to find out more about Richard's finances, but makes the shocking discovery that she is not the only person who is after Richard Favour's fortune...
This is the third book I have read by Madeleine Wickham and I would have to say the best so far. You may know Madeleine Wickham better as Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic books. She wrote these books in the 90's, using her own name, and they have a very different style to the light and airy Sophie Kinsella books as you can probably tell from the description of the plot I have given above.
The book starts with Fleur taking £10,000 of money from Sakis, the last man she was with, and heading to Emily's memorial service. Although we find out early what Fleur's scam is, there is still a huge shroud of mystery around the character which I think makes it better for the reader, as when Fleur meets Richard, I found myself eager to keep reading and find out just how she pulls off the scam without arousing any suspicions.
In fact, there were a lot of moments, where the reader is left with questions, which I thought was quite clever as it made me want to keep reading to find out more. We learn, for example, that Fleur has a daughter, Zara, quite early on, but it's over halfway through the book that we actually meet her and find anything out about her.
Given the fact she is effectively conning vulnerable men out of their money, it would be pretty easy to dislike Fleur, but in fact as a reader I was more intrigued by her than anything else. She does of course have some very unlikeable moments - she is hugely self-centred - but to me that just added to the ruthlessness and credibility of the character, rather than making her a hate figure. To have the sheer nerve to pull off the sort of scam Fleur does time and time again, you would have to be quite a ballsy person, and I thought Fleur came across as being incredibly strong and sharp minded, with an arrogant air of confidence that made her seem very real as a confidence trickster, and therefore very well written.
Richard and his family are not particularly the most exciting characters - especially in comparison to Fleur - but they are very readable and very likeable. I enjoyed reading about Gillian and Philippa especially as they were both very similar in a way - they had fairly dull, lonely and unfulfilled lives, and in a way latched onto Fleur, both desperate to befriend her as she was vibrant and exotic and their complete opposite. I think they both felt Fleur was the key to the lives they had always dreamed of having. Both women were very lonely and seemed to be craving friendship and it seemed to me that all of this time they could have become close to each other, rather than latching onto Fleur.
There are lots of little sub-plots going on, with Philippa and her vile husband Lambert, and Anthony and Zara strike up a friendship in the latter half of the book too. These little sub-plots add depth to the story and as there is always something going on, which meant I never got bored.
There is a lot of tension and suspense in this book, which I felt was another thing that made it very readable. There is the constant threat that Fleur will be discovered for what she is, as well as the equal threat that the other person who is after Richard's money could be exposed. I also found it to be quite an exciting book, especially towards the end, when there are so many twists and turns I could barely keep up. Every time I felt as though I had an idea of where the book was going, something unexpected would happen to change the direction. When I was less than 50 pages from the end, I still didn't know where the story was heading, as one drama after the next unfolded.
Overall I found this to be a really enjoyable book, and like I said earlier, the best of the Madeleine Wickham books I have read so far. It's an interesting idea for a plot, and I felt it more than fulfilled its potential. It's written in a really easy to read style, with engaging characters and an equally engaging story and I would thoroughly recommend giving this a read.
I borrowed this book recently from the library. I chose it after reading the blurb on the back cover and discovering that the storyline was somewhat different from most books purporting to be chick lit. This one features a gold-digging anti-heroine, something of a departure from most books in this genre.
Fleur Daxeny is a beautiful woman in her forties, single and with a teenage daughter. She uses her looks to her best advantage by gatecrashing funerals, latching on to the bereaved husbands, and taking them for as much money as she can before moving on to her next target. Her latest conquest, Richard Favour, falls for her hook, line and sinker and invites her to his home where she meets the rest of his family and also discovers she's not the only one after his money.
Madeleine Wickham also writes as Sophie Kinsella, creator of the Shopaholic books but unlike Becky Bloomwood the heroine of those books, Fleur doesn't really seem to have any redeeming qualities. I more or less took against her from the beginning of the book and hadn't much changed my opinion by the time I'd reached the end.
She's a deeply unlikeable person, preying as she does on wealthy bereaved men. I daresay there are women like Fleur in the world, probably doing exactly what she does, but they're not really the kind of people I want to meet and I completely failed to see any humour in the situation. I've read books before about unscrupulous women and most have some redeeming features which make the reader like them a little bit but Fleur, I'm afraid, does not. She's calculating, hard and selfish. She's also considerably older than the usual chick lit lead character which I think added to my dislike of her. It would have been easier to forgive a younger woman for taking the actions that she does.
I didn't much like Richard either. Admittedly his recently dead wife, Emily, had 'enjoyed' ill health for quite a while before her death but she was supposed to have been the love of his life, and considering he's so newly bereaved, he fell into a relationship with Fleur with remarkable ease. Madeleine Wickham tries to explain this away by having Richard recall various times in their marriage that Emily has said or done cruel things.
Some of the other characters in the book have slightly better qualities than Fleur but, again, none of them were the sort of people I would much want to meet in real life and I think to enjoy any book it's necessary to form some kind of empathy with at least one of the characters. I failed on that score too. Philippa, Richard's daughter seemed to spend the entire book whingeing. Zara, Fleur's teenage daughter, was probably the most realistic character in the book. I could quite believe that a young girl who had led such a rootless life would long for some stability and having the mother that she did it was plausible that she would use underhand methods to get what she wanted.
To sum up:
When I chose this book I'd expected it to be much lighter in tone than it turned out to be. For chick lit, this certainly has a dark edge about it and all in all I found it a somewhat disappointing read. There were times when I almost gave up on it all together and when I read the final page it wasn't with any great sense of satisfaction, other than that I'd actually managed to stick it out to the bitter end.