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A DESIRABLE RESIDENCE by Madeleine Wickham

A DESIRABLE RESIDENCE

By Madeleine Wickham

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15108-X
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

 Though it sours a bit by the end, this British novel of manners and mores from the author of The Tennis Party (p. 172) charms with its easy pace and likable characters. Enthusiastic Liz Chambers convinces her docile husband Jonathan to sell their family home and purchase the local tutorial college. She hopes to turn the cozy, uninspired academy into a modern, high turn-over, high-tech prep school. Which sounds like a solid plan, if only they weren't already sinking under extensive business loans. Into their distress wanders Marcus Witherstone, an affluent estate agent who, with genuine sympathy for Liz's angered desperation, pulls some strings at the bank, arranging, among other things, for the rental of their much-mortgaged house. Explained rather blithely as just one of those things, Marcus and Liz begin an illicit affair that seems to be based not so much on passion as on mutual boredom. Ironically, their relationship is the story's least interesting element: The tense relationship Marcus has with his young, brilliant wife, and the supportive relationship of Ginny and Piers, the young couple renting Liz's house, are both more absorbing than the clichÇd adulterous affair. Marcus is far more interesting when he's scrambling to pull off a crooked real estate deal, or struggling with his wife to gain some influence over their young sons. Liz is also more interesting out of the hotel room, and more needed as teenage daughter Alice becomes obsessed with her friendship with Ginny and dashing husband Piers, who's an almost famous TV actor with troubles of his own. Though the story is overburdened with subplots, it's told in a conversational style that nicely strings all the characters together in an amiable, compelling way. The reader easily glides along until Liz begins engaging in happily-ever-after fantasies, scorning sweet Jonathan, and pushing Marcus too far. All in all, Wickham, though an observant and engaging storyteller, delivers a novel too melodramatic and lightweight to be particularly memorable.