Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Are you moving, or are you staying?

I have long been a fan of the "Shopaholic" series by Sophie Kinsella, so I'm always thrilled to find any other books she may have written.  A Desirable Residence was originally published in 1996 under her real name of Madeleine Wickham.  This story is interesting and engaging, and deals with much more serious topics than Becky Bloomwood's maxed out credit cards!

Perhaps seeing the coming housing crisis, the author has her main characters, Liz and Jonathan Chambers, stressed out by mortgage payments.  In their case, however, it is because they are paying on two mortgages at the same time.  They were both working as teachers and living with their teen aged daughter Alice in the family home. Then the opportunity arose for them to buy Silchester Tutorial College, and Liz (the much more decisive of the pair) decided that it would be a good move for them professionally.  It involved moving across town, and they thought there would be no problem in selling their current house.  However, months have gone by and there's been no interest in their old house.  The young real estate agent is even suggesting they drop the price so low that it won't even bring in enough to cover the existing mortgage.  Liz thinks her prayers have been answered when an older, more assured agent, Marcus Witherstone, takes an interest in the property and suggests an alternative:  perhaps the Chambers should rent out the house for a while to at least have some cash coming in.  Luckily, he knows some prospective tenants:  Ginny Prentice and her actor husband Piers.

Marcus, married to the beautiful but high-strung Anthea, is engaged in some shady real-estate dealings, and looking for a distraction.  Liz, stressed out about money and wondering if buying the college was a mistake, is also eager to forget about her problems for a while.  It's not surprising when the two of them begin an affair.

Meanwhile, Alice is having a rough time of things.  She doesn't understand why her parents have made her leave their lovely old home for a poky flat at the tutorial college.  Her best (and really only) friend Genevieve has moved away, and she's feeling extremely lonely and isolated.  So much so that she often sneaks back to her old house and hides out in the garage, smoking.

When Ginny and Piers move in to the old Chambers house (accompanied by frequent house guest Duncan), it's not long before they discover the stowaway Alice in the garage.  Far from being angry, they are friendly and welcoming to the lonely girl.  Unfortunately, Alice takes their openness as an invitation, and starts spending more and more time with them, unbeknownst to her parents (who are pretty taken up with their own problems anyway).  Piers, who hasn't had an acting job for a while, is being considered for a part and this is the main concern for him and Ginny.

So all of these people go about in their own little bubbles, until invariably, they all collide in unexpected and disruptive ways.  I really, really didn't like the self-absorbed and flighty Liz.  She had no problem in uprooting her family (seemingly on a whim) to buy the college, and then left the great majority of the work to her husband.  I found it hard to believe that the young couple, Ginny and Piers, had no problem with Alice showing up on their doorstep pretty much any time they were home.  But, for the most part, it was really fun to try to figure out where this train-wreck was headed!  Because with so many secrets going around, some dirty linen was going to get aired in public before it was over!

I really enjoyed the book, and the story really held my interest.  I'm looking forward to reading more of the "Wickham" books while I wait for the next installment of the Shopaholic series.

Final Verdict for A Desirable Residence Four Gherkins, for being an inside look at several dysfunctional families whose lives intersect in unforeseen ways

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