Monday, August 25, 2014

COCKTAILS FOR THREE


Review of COCKTAILS FOR THREE by MADELEINE WICKHAM

Sophie Kinsella is my all-time favorite chick lit author. If that sounds like a tangent, let me mention that Madeleine Wickham is merely another pseudonym for Sophie Kinsella. I actually counted both authors as my top-two favorites for a few years before discovering they’re the same person! So why use two different names?, you might wonder. After putting some thought into the matter myself, I’ve concluded that her Wickham books are a little grittier than her Kinsella ones. Note an important distinction: that’s “a little grittier” not “gritty.” Characters swear more, might engage in illegal activities, and make less responsible decisions. A Wickham character might smoke pot, but not a Kinsella character. In the case of COCKTAILS FOR THREE, we’re quickly introduced to a pregnant woman drinking alcohol and a woman having an affair with a married man, both things Kinsella protagonists likely wouldn’t do. In other words, Kinsella books play it safer and steer away from potential controversy, but both possess the same lighthearted, humorous tone that has made her work so popular regardless of which pseudonym.

Also, if I’m remembering correctly, I think Kinsella books always focus on only one heroine. Whereas COCKTAILS FOR THREE follows three different women who work for the same magazine, enviably close friends who meet the first of every month for cocktails. It’s at one of these traditional happenings that Wickham first sets the stage. (Impressively, I might add. In retrospect the novel put me in mind of a skillful play where the first scene lays out groundwork for future problems with natural dialogue and believable - if ticking time bomb - developments.) We meet Candice first. Sweet, young, trusting Candice who would chide herself for complaining about her current problem if she knew what was to come. What is her current problem? Her ex-boyfriend, who also works for the same magazine, has taken over as her boss and she fears some inevitable pettiness and tension. He’s replacing Maggie, second in this friendship threesome, who is nervously about to embark on a new life of stay-at-home motherhood out in the country. Last but not least, there’s Roxanne, who manages to stun people with her looks, charm, wit, wardrobe, and spunk. Her friends know she’s been having an affair with a married man for six years now, though Roxanne refuses to reveal his identity even to her closest friends. She speaks casually and callously about her romance and only in her own viewpoint is her pain and insecurity apparent.

Enter Heather, a cocktail waitress but also someone who dredges up painful memories for Candice. In an effort to make amends for (and I’ll emphasize this word) perceived wrongdoings, Candice reaches out to Heather and unknowingly welcomes said ticking time bomb into her life.

This one was a re-read, specifically so I could review it on my blog, and I found the novel just as engaging as the first time. It’s a fast, easy, fun, and entertaining read about how strong friendships strengthen us an individuals. I tore through the story and found myself wanting to bump all my re-reads and first time reads by both Wickham and Kinsella higher up on my mental read-next list.

I particularly admire how Wickham makes all her heroines likeable but still flawed. In fact, I’ve mentioned on this blog how sometimes cheating characters can put me off a book, but Roxanne didn’t do that. Or perhaps I should say Wickham didn’t do that. I’ve come to realize that it’s not the character cheating that puts me off; it’s when I feel like the author is attempting to justify the character’s decisions and steer my reaction towards what the author wants it to be. I like books where the author simply presents real and believable characters and allows me to think whatever I will about them. Wickham does just that. She makes Roxanne an authentic person, but doesn’t attempt to explain away any of her decisions.

Another triumph from Wickham/Kinsella!

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