A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
At eighteen, Milly was up for anything. So when a friend asked her to marry him just so he could stay in England, she didn’t hesitate. To make it seem real she dressed up in wedding finery and posed on the steps of the registry office for photographs. Now, ten years later, Milly is a very different person. Engaged to Simon – who is good-looking, wealthy and adores her – she is about to have the biggest and most elaborate wedding imaginable, all masterminded by her mother. Nobody knows about her first marriage, so it’s almost as though it never happened – isn’t it? But with only four days to go, it looks as though Milly’s past is going to catch up with her. Can she sort things out before her fairytale wedding collapses around her? How can she tell Simon? And worse still, how can she tell her mother …?
Madeleine Wickham is the real name of Sophie Kinsella who writes the Shopaholic novels, and I’ve always steered well clear of them (and by default Wickham) as shopping of any description drives me insane. But at Tesco recently I was desperately in need of some light reading so I dropped this one into my trolley on the way past the shelves.
And I’ve loved it. Totally loved it – well, with a few niggles, but that’s par for the course with me. Strangely, the main character, Milly, was the one I warmed to least of all – particularly at the beginning she came over as rather too naïve in the arranged marriage she makes with a man she’s really only just met. And then later on her attitude to this first and much younger marriage is simply to sweep it under the carpet and ignore it entirely as she prepares to marry the man of her dreams (who is also the son of a very rich, very famous man) – which doesn’t bode well in the maturity stakes. Still, Milly, if a bit dim, does have some grand moments of social comedy:
Once, in the early days of their relationship, as they lay together in Simon’s huge double bed at Pinnacle Hall, Simon had told her that he’d known she was someone special when she didn’t start asking him questions about his father … He’d gazed at her with incredulous eyes, and Milly had smiled sweetly and murmured an indistinct, sleepy response. She could hardly admit that the reason she’d never mentioned Harry Pinnacle was that she’d never heard of him.
Ah well, we’ve all been there my dears (it wasn’t that long ago I had to admit I’d never heard of Robbie Williams, but hey I’m not much into modern music, you know …) and certainly Milly comes out rather well in that scene. Anyway the writing here is so sharp and snazzy, with some wonderful one-liners, that really you can forgive the rather too ditzy for words heroine anything. Plus, the range of secondary characters is frankly so darn wonderful that I was swept up in their stories to such an extent that I simply couldn’t stop reading. I absolutely loved Rupert, whose American boyfriend the young Milly marries to allow him to stay in the country, and whose story arc from denial to lost love to a loveless marriage to acceptance of his sexuality is simply incredibly good. Yes, I cried at several points and with good reason. Here he is after having read a very important letter:
Some time later, a young teacher arrived at the door of the gallery, surrounded by her swarming class of cheerful children. They had intended to spend the afternoon sketching the portrait of Elizabeth I. But as she saw the young man sitting in the middle of the room, she swiftly turned the children round and shepherded them towards another painting. Rupert, lost in silent tears, didn’t even see them.
Fabulous writing and pitch-perfect for the character and the scene. Turning elsewhere, Milly’s sister, Isobel, and stressed-out mother, Olivia, are also well worth the read. And the mystery of Isobel’s pregnancy and who the father might be is well-played, and was a nice surprise for me when it was finally revealed. Especially as it gave a deeper resonance to Isobel’s conversations and interactions with her family earlier in the book. In terms of Olivia, I did start out finding her very difficult as a character, which meant I more than enjoyed the way Wickham slowly warms her up so we understand her point of view towards the end, and there’s a good resolution for her too. The comic interplay between Isobel and her mother also made me smile on occasion. Here they are after Olivia has offered Isobel a really much-needed drink:
Isobel was silent, trying to sort out the contrary strands of thought in her brain. She couldn’t drink, just in case she decided to keep the baby. What kind of twisted logic was that?
‘All that phooey!’ Olivia was saying. ‘I was on three gins a day when I had you. And you turned out all right, didn’t you? More or less?’
A reluctant smile spread over Isobel’s face. ‘OK,’ she said. ‘I could do with a drink.’
‘So could I,’ said Olivia. ‘Let’s open another bottle.’
In similar fashion to Olivia, Milly’s fiancé, Simon, comes across as very self-centred and blinkered at the beginning, but we are gradually given more of his background and see more of the difficulties he experiences with his rich and sometimes too-generous father. Indeed at the end, even though Simon spends a large part of the book behaving like an idiot, I was really rooting for him, particularly as his final attempts to make things right with Milly were both witty and moving. Good for him.
What with all this character redemption going on all over the place, it was good to see the opposite move taking place with Milly’s godmother, Esme, whom I instantly warmed to, but then revealed her more devious side as the plot developed. The only issue here was I wasn’t sure why Esme acted as she did, and I think Wickham could have developed that aspect of the storyline more and to greater effect.
That said, this book is very much a character novel where everyone in it is thrown into a rather dramatic situation and has to do a lot of re-evaluating and development of their own lives before the denouement arrives, in a way that is both amusing and thoughtful – which is the kind of plot and character mix I really love. In fact, the character who goes through the least change is, interestingly enough, Milly, and even there she eventually has to face the errors of her youth so does have some small measure of growth.
In any case, whatever the little niggles I had with this book, I couldn’t stop reading it and thinking about it, and I really hope there’s a sequel at some point, certainly for the unfortunate Rupert, and perhaps Isobel too. In the meantime, I’m going to be seeking out more Wickham novels for sure.
The Wedding Girl, Black Swan 2010, ISBN: 978 0 552 77673 8
[Anne possesses an unexpectedly soft spot for weddings and was so very excited about her own that she was almost the first to arrive, apart from the vicar …]