The other night I finished reading The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham, otherwise known as Shopaholic series writing sensation Sophie Kinsella. There are about six Wickham novels in all, a factoid that intrigued me. Why, I wondered, was this popular chick lit author writing under two names? In search of answers, I consulted Google and finally found what I was looking for on http://www.about.com/. It turns out that the Wickham books, which were written first, were not so popular. Furthermore, the article I read described them as "having more substance than the frothy Kinsella books." Apparently, Madeleine came up with the pseudonym Sophie Kinsella to launch her Shopaholic books in hopes of attracting new readers (which, as we all know, she did in spades).
So, The Wedding Girl. I d0n't know if I'd call it a novel of substance (it seemed pretty frothy to me), but it was markedly different from the more larger-than-life Kinsella adventures we all know and love. It's about a twenty-eight-year-old girl named Millie (terrible name, I know, as it conjures up images of old ladies bent over their knitting. But then, maybe it's a British thing.) who is engaged to Simon, a millionaire's son. They're happy enough, save for a few little details. For instance, Millie dresses more conservatively than she would like because she thinks Simon prefers it. She also pretends to read newspapers when she'd rather be reading celebrity magazines. I was put off by this; after all, how can you marry a man when he doesn't even know if you're a pumps or sneakers kind of girl? (Personal style, as we all know, speaks volumes about one's personality.) But despite this ripple, things seem to be going smoothly for the couple. That is, until the wedding photographer recognizes Millie as a bride he saw coming down the courthouse steps ten years ago. After this hairpin turn of events, we learn that Millie married a gay American man, Allan, when she was eighteen, so he could stay in England with his boyfriend, Rupert. She never told anyone and lost touch with Allan. She also never got divorced.
Terrified that the photographer will reveal her secret to the vicar, Millie confides in her godmother, the single and glamorous Esme, before finally setting off to London in search of Allan. This would be a good place to mention that this is one of those novels that dips into every main character's head. For example, we find out that Millie's sister, Isobel, is seeing Simon's father, Harry, and is pregnant with his child; that Millie's father is planning to leave Millie's mother; and that Rupert is now married to a woman and is a born-again Christian. To me, this was what made the novel interesting. By revealing each character's back story and thoughts, Wickham renders each as sympathetic, stripping any one character of "good guy" or "bad guy" status. (Come to think of it, maybe this is where the substance comes in.) From my creative writing workshop days, I know that the third-person omniscient viewpoint is one of the most difficult for a writer to work with (my professor always advised us against tackling it). So, I was impressed by Wickham's skillful use of it here.
Of course, the vicar finds out about Millie. And of course, it wasn't the photographer who squealed, but the unfairy godmother, Esme. Apparently, she's some man-hating nut who was once jilted by Harry. Simon is outraged and calls off the wedding. But things don't remain messy for long. The rift between Simon and Millie shakes things up in such a way that it seems to bring out the best in everyone - including themselves. Isobel and Harry get engaged, Millie's parents decide to stay together, Rupert decides to leave his wife and come out of the closet for good, and Millie tells Simon the truth about her wild wardrobe and her penchant for gossip columns. Amused by her final confessions, he says he's always known the real her and loves her more than ever. To top it all off, Allan turns out to be dead, freeing Millie and Simon to marry.
Although the conflicts were tidied up a bit speedily at the end, I enjoyed this story. Like all of the Wickham-Kinsella books, it offers a humorous yet insightful peek into the minds of twenty-something women and has the makings of a great romantic comedy.