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.
Chloe needs a holiday. She’s sick of making wedding dresses and her partner is having trouble at work. Her wealthy friend Gerard has offered the loan of his luxury villa in Spain – perfect. Hugh is not a happy man. His immaculate wife seems more interested in the granite for the new kitchen than in him, and he works so hard to pay for it all, he barely has time to see their children. But his old schoolfriend Gerard has lent them a luxury villa in Spain – perfect. Both families arrive at the villa and get a shock. Gerard has double-booked. An uneasy week of sharing begins, and tensions soon mount in the soaring heat. But there’s also a secret history between the families – and as tempers fray, an old passion begins to resurface …
Well, this was a breath of fresh air in the incredibly busy life I appear to be leading at the moment and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Just what I needed really to add a bit of light relief to my working day. As well as being a nifty piece of social and romantic comedy, Sleeping Arrangements looks at some serious issues such as unemployment and the downsides of family life, so is for grown-up women too; it’s “hen-lit” rather than chick-lit.
I really loved the tricky set-ups in both Chloe’s and Hugh’s families, and how they both try to negotiate their way through them as best possible – it managed to hit that point between being realistic and being witty with great aplomb and a pleasingly delicate touch. Having two such different families so thoroughly out of their natural environment and having to share their holiday with virtual strangers is also a theme ripe for comedy and drama, and Wickham provides both these aspects in abundance here.
The major characters are well depicted, and I particularly enjoyed Chloe’s journey through the normality of her domestic life, the fears about her partner Philip’s potential unemployment, the history of her lost love and then the decisions and consequences she is able to take on board at the end of the story. Against such a strong personality, Hugh’s wife, Amanda, is something of a “posh lass with a rich husband” cliché and I would have liked to have discovered more about her as I was convinced there were hidden depths under the make-up. Occasionally I think we get a glimpse of these but sadly there’s no room to follow it up.
I also appreciated the way Hugh and Philip are contrasted, in their lifestyles, career choices and personalities, and also in how they relate to Chloe at important moments. Philip can be incredibly sweet and at times I really wanted to hug him. Here he is in a flashback scene remembering back when his then new girlfriend Chloe fearfully introduced him to her son:
‘I didn’t want to spring him on you,’ she’d said stiffly, looking away. ‘I didn’t want you to think he was some kind of … secret.’
‘Well, you did the right thing,’ he’d said, coming forward quickly to hug her. ‘All second dates should have young children as part of the cabaret.’ He’d shrugged, deadpan. ‘To be honest, you on your own can get pretty boring.’
‘Shut up,’ she’d said, half smiling. ‘You creep.’
Bliss. I loved that moment, and it sums up Philip and Chloe perfectly. I was rooting for him all the way. And I felt it was particularly important to root for Philip as, if you haven’t guessed it already, Chloe and Hugh are old flames, and the flame doesn’t appear to be entirely dead … Bearing this vital and very secret connection in mind, I did enjoy how Wickham didn’t simply leave that as the only link between the families, but there is another and perhaps far more surprising one too, which is only revealed much later on, entirely due to the machinations of the dreadful Gerard.
There are other delights in this book too: the nanny to Amanda and Hugh’s children is a great contrast to everyone else and provides a couple of interesting dramatic moments in the text, especially in her relationship with Chloe’s teenage son; the descriptions of Spain are wonderful and I would have loved more of them; the way the couples change and develop is very good indeed; the bittersweet ending is spot on; and really that villa is definitely to die for. So if you’re looking for a lively romantic read to get you in the mood for summer and with some serious issues under the enjoyable froth, this is the one for you.
Sleeping Arrangements, Black Swan 2010, ISBN 978 0 552 77675 2
[Anne once went on holiday to a Spanish villa with friends herself, and will one day write about the secret history which was – utterly unknown to her – already going on. In utter contrast to all this jollity, her latest book Where You Hurt The Most is about facial disfigurement and the healing power of parks.]