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Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham: a disappointingly light concoction

Cocktails for Three cover

Three great friends, smart and successful, meet for cocktails and gossip once a month.
Roxanne: glamorous, self-confident, with a secret lover – will he ever leave his wife and marry her?

Maggie: capable and high-achieving – will she take motherhood in her stride?
Candice – honest, decent, or so she believes – how will she cope when a ghost from her past turns up?
Then one night a conversation with the cocktail waitress sets in train an extraordinary chain of events which will affect all three women’s lives. Will their friendship survive?

This book is another light read from the Queen of Romantic Comedy, Madeleine Wickham, but sadly I don’t think it’s quite as classy as her other books I’ve read so far. It certainly doesn’t have the depth and reading satisfaction I’ve grown accustomed to from this author.

The set-up is decent enough, with three very different women facing major issues in their lives which have a significant impact on their friendship. Two of the women I very much liked: Roxanne was my favourite with the gap between the persona she portrays and who she actually is keeping the tension in the text very much alive. The slow release of information about her difficult love affair, and how she keeps the man’s identity secret from her two friends, is very poignant indeed.

To my surprise, I also found myself warming to Maggie who is heavily pregnant and just about to become a very fearful mother. I thought Maggie’s secret dread of the baby was very realistic – the experience would certainly have filled me with existential horror also. I therefore sympathised with her regret at the loss of her former lifestyle, and the apparent shackles of motherhood. Once the baby arrives however, there are some marvellous scenes with Maggie and her mother-in law, Paddy, where Paddy tries, good-heartedly, to introduce her to some local mothers in her new rural home. However, this is the last thing poor Maggie really wants and the comic effect is spot-on. Here she is meeting a young mother from the vicinity for the first time:

‘Wanta do a poo,’ Jake announced, wandering over to his mother’s side.
‘Good boy,’ she said, putting down her cup. ‘Just let me get the potty out.’
‘Dear God, no!’ cried Maggie, getting to her feet. ‘I mean – I’ll make some more coffee.’

Perfect. On the other hand, I did think that Maggie’s way of sorting out her life with her husband David at the end was very high-handed. Surely there should have been a lot more discussion between them than that?…

Anyway both these women are pretty strong and have powerful story arcs, but the third in the trio, Candice, is unfortunately very weak indeed. I spent most of the book wanting to shake her and scream. The author makes a brave attempt to show Candice’s background and the effect her conman father has had on her, but it’s really no excuse for all the ridiculous and immature decisions the wretched woman makes. Yes, she does help to further the plot but, to my mind, we simply didn’t need her. I would have been happy with a book focusing on Roxanne and Maggie alone. There’s more than enough there to fill a novel. I also thought Candice had absolutely no common sense in her opinions of people. It should have been obvious to a 5-year old about the evil flatmate from the start.

Candice had not yet mentioned rent to Heather – nor had Heather ever brought the subject up. In her heart she had always thought that Heather would offer to pay something, at least – but then even if she didn’t, Candice thought with a sudden fierceness, what was the big deal?

Speaking of which, it should also have been obvious that Ed, the neighbour, is way too good for her, and I would have liked to have seen a lot more of him in the story. With somebody else, preferably. I had no idea what he saw in Candice.

It also seemed to me that the plot is on the whole very clichéd which certainly isn’t vintage Wickham in any sense. There’s the archetypal getting used to motherhood story, and the your new friend is actually a secret enemy story, both of which I think we’ve probably all read before. The only strand that’s substantially different is the Roxanne story, and that takes a wonderfully dark turn about halfway through, which utterly gripped me. I longed for more of Roxanne, as well as Ed. Perhaps they should have ended up as a couple? Now that would have been nice …

I must also say my reading experience was severely dented in the middle of this novel by the practical matter of pages 209 to 257 being entirely missing from the binding, sigh. I’d just got Roxanne onto the plane having a breakdown after hearing a piece of very shocking news, and the next thing I knew it was several weeks later with Maggie and her husband attempting to sort things out romantically. Very disturbing indeed. Still, I worked it out pretty fast and had to rush to order a second copy which, thankfully, turned up with all pages intact before I was forced to write my own version of the missing scenes. Phew.

So, all in all, I wouldn’t really recommend this one as vintage Wickham, but it’s pleasant enough, and she still makes a decent cocktail, or three.

Cocktails for Three, Black Swan Press 2010, ISBN: 978 0 552 77674 5
Also available as an eBook

[Anne has never been glamorous enough to frequent any kind of cocktail bar, but sometimes wonders what would happen if she did.]

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).

6 comments on “Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham: a disappointingly light concoction

  1. Chris Harding
    November 24, 2011

    Hmmm… this all sounds vaguely familiar – Have I read this book or something very similar? Maybe I’ll pass on this one and sample cocktails instead…

  2. annebrooke
    November 24, 2011

    Ha! Could be wise, Chris. Wickham’s usually a lot better than this! 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

  3. kirstyjane
    November 24, 2011

    I always enjoy reading your reviews, Anne, and I think you are a very sharp observer of the strong, weak (and just banal) points in a book. I definitely agree with you on this one, but even the annoying Candice didn’t manage to hamper my enjoyment of it — perhaps because it was the first Wickham I read. It was the second one, Sleeping Arrangements, which put me right off. Only your review of, I think it was, The Wedding Girl convinced me to have another shot and I am glad I did!

    I don’t think I would have enjoyed Cocktails for Three as much had I read it after The Wedding Girl, The Gatecrasher, A Desirable Residence, etc., etc. and etc.

  4. annebrooke
    November 24, 2011

    Thanks, Kirsty! And yikes though, I have Sleeping Arrangements on my pile to be read – I will live in fear now!! 🙂 Perhaps I’m reading these in utterly the wrong order?!?

    Anne
    xxx

  5. Jackie
    November 27, 2011

    Oh dear, how disappointing. This author is usually so dependable, in whichever guise she’s writing in. But I must say, in a purely selfish way, that your reviews when you don’t like a book are even more entertaining than the one where you do like it. You are never nasty and always quite specific about what you dislike, but oh so funny about it all. It’s an enviable quality and one that makes it a treat to read.

  6. annebrooke
    November 28, 2011

    Thanks, Jackie! 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

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