Vulpes Libris

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.

The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham – a tale of two marriages

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 …]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

12 comments on “The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham – a tale of two marriages

  1. Moira
    June 30, 2011

    Well I wasn’t expecting THAT, Anne. i thought that you and Sophie Kinsella – even if she WAS masquerading under a pen-name – would be a real case of oil and water. You just can’t tell, can you? Are you sure you’re feeling quite well, m’dear? Strain of wrestling with publishers and moving house at the same time getting to you perhaps? :0)

  2. annebrooke
    June 30, 2011

    🙂 Ha! Do I detect the merest hint of what the French would call “le sarcasme”, Moira? Surely not …! This is just really high-class stuff and I loved it. Exactly what chicklit should be, and with a hell of a lot of depth which I really enjoyed.

    Still, not sure I’m up to those shopping novels though – arrgghh!! – but I have bought a job-lot of other Wickham books …

    Perhaps I’m softening in my old age. 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

  3. Alison M.
    June 30, 2011

    I really liked it too, in fact quite a lot better than her “Sophie Kinsella” stuff because it dealt with some quite punchy issues whilst remaining a light, entertaining read.

  4. annebrooke
    June 30, 2011

    Thanks, Alison – my thoughts exactly! 🙂

    Anne B
    xxx

  5. Jackie
    June 30, 2011

    But Kinsella writes nonshopping novels too, such as the excellent “Twenties Girl” which was reviewed on VL here . I recall reading some of the Shopaholics & thinking they were funny and certainly no one can accuse me of loving to shop, evidenced by my constant dishelved appearance.
    I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Wickham’s books though, I really liked how you got so much depth out of this one, looks like it has great potential.

  6. annebrooke
    June 30, 2011

    Yes, I think you’ll love it, Jackie! 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

  7. Julie
    July 1, 2011

    I read a Madeleine Wickham ages ago, but thought it was more akin to Joanna Trollope than chick lit. I read the first three Shopaholic books, but soon got weary of Becky who never seemed to grow as a character. Her non-Shopaholic books are good, but find Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell, Christina Jones, Sue Moorcroft and Trisha Ashley, superior in the romantic comedy/chick lit department.

  8. kirstyjane
    July 3, 2011

    This sounds lovely — and you’ve convinced me to read it, whereas the last Wickham book I read (Sleeping Arrangements) put me off. I do actually rather like the Shopaholic books, which are very witty, but agree that the main character never seems to learn! Thank you Anne for a great review.

  9. Hilary
    July 3, 2011

    I think I’ll love this, too – also a sucker for weddings (and also, Anne, early for mine – I had to be driven twice round the village green in order to arrive at a seemly time). The last wedding themed book I read was Katie Fforde’s The Wedding Season, which I found disappointingly one-dimensional (that dimension being the five-act production that is a modern wedding, rather than the relationships that give it what meaning it may have) – so I’m in the market for something with more depth. And I’m all for redemption too – an under-rated virtue (is it a virtue?)

  10. annebrooke
    July 3, 2011

    Thanks, all! Must admit I’ve not been a fan of Katie Fforde for a while as she never seems to move on. And Trollope is too dark and bleak for me 🙂 I’ve given the other authors mentioned a go, but never got on with them at all (Jones I certainly could never finish …). Perhaps Wickham suits me as a non-typical chick lit reader? Hard to tell!

    And, Hilary, glad I’m not the only one early for my own wedding!

    Anne
    xxx

  11. Stevie Carroll
    July 5, 2011

    I like the look of this one.

  12. annebrooke
    July 5, 2011

    Definitely give it a try, Stevie! 🙂 Hope you enjoy the read

    Anne
    xxx

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