Liz and Jonathan Chambers were in trouble. Mortgage trouble. They’d stretched themselves to busting with their new exciting project – well, Liz thought it exciting – buying and managing the Silchester Tutorial College, and now couldn’t sell their old house. Here they were, stuck with two mortgages, mounting debts and a miserable adolescent daughter who hadn’t wanted to move anyway.Then Marcus Witherstone came into their lives – and at first it seemed he would solve all their problems. Marcus, senior partner in Silchester’s leading estate agency, was large, assured, and wore an expensive overcoat. He knew the perfect tenants from London who would rent their old house – glamorous PR girl Ginny and almost-famous Piers. Everything was going to be OK.But soon Marcus found himself involved with Liz in a way he’d never intended. Keeping his adulterous trysts secret from Anthea was uncomfortably easy – most of the time her head was firmly buried in Improve your Child’s IQ. Meanwhile, as Liz was lost in blissful dreams of Marcus, Jonathan was left to run the tutorial college. Neither of them had time to notice that teenage Alice was developing a desperate passion for the tenants, Piers and Ginny. Everyone seemed to be entangled with everyone else, in the most awkward possible way. And as events closed in on him, Marcus began to realise that some deceptions are just a bit too close to home.

Despite being a big fan of Sophie Kinsella’s writing, I’ve only just got around to reading the books that she wrote before she took on that name. ‘A Desirable Residence’ is Wickham’s second novel and was described by the Telegraph as ‘Witty and wise’ – I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it!

The story begins with middle-aged married couple Liz and Jonathan Chambers in a bit of a mess financially. They’ve bought a tutorial college to run together, but in order to afford the mortgage on the building they were supposed to have sold their home [something that their teenage daughter, Alice, is very unhappy about]. When estate agent Marcus Witherstone finds them tenants for their old house to help them make ends meet, Liz thinks she’s met her very own knight in shining armour [or at least in a better suit than her husband can afford]. Alice becomes friends with the new tenants – the impossibly cool and sophisticated Ginny and Piers: Piers is a struggling actor who’s up for a part in a major soap, whilst Ginny, his wife, dreams of her husband becoming rich and famous. As Alice struggles to keep her crush on Piers a secret, will she discover that the couple aren’t quite as fabulous as she first thinks? Meanwhile, Marcus involves himself in some dodgy dealings and embarks on an affair with Liz whilst his wife employs Jonathan to tutor her son – it all becomes a big tangled mess which takes some sorting out at the end!

Whilst the majority of characters in this novel are a pretty unpleasant lot, I liked the fact that they got their just desserts, and Wickham seems to have the ability to write about any character convincingly: the thoughts and feelings of Marcus’ little boys are just as well portrayed as those of their father for example. The character of Alice is particularly well written: plenty of teenage angst that can be got over quickly enough if her mates want to go to the cinema. I do however, prefer the character development in the books written as Sophie Kinsella; I’m not sure whether this is just because the books are longer with more space for the characters to grow, or whether you get to know the main characters more in the Kinsella books, as they focus on one character whereas here we closely follow several.

Madeleine Wickham’s writing style is very different to when she writes as Sophie Kinsella. ‘A Desirable Residence’ is a much more ‘grown-up’ sort of book. It’s not full of frivolity like the Shopaholic series for instance and it deals with much ‘deeper’ issues.  I loved the way that Wickham’s writing really allowed you to see how the characters came across to the others in the story; co-stars who didn’t know as much about the main characters as the reader!

I did enjoy this book, and I was very impressed by how capable Madeleine/Sophie is at writing her two very different styles. The characters were convincing and true to life, and you were kept guessing until the last page as to what was actually going to happen to them. It didn’t have the same hold over me as when I’m reading one of Sophie Kinsella’s books – the Shopaholic series in particular – but it was a good read and I’ll definitely be trying some of her other novels.

4 stars

This book is available to buy from Amazon and Waterstone’s

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