If most of Sophie Kinsella's novels seem like romantic comedies, then her alter ego Madeleine Wickham's A Desirable Residence is one step away from an indie flick. As I read, I imagined the cloudy skies, unglamorous characters, and alternative rock soundtrack that would color the film adaptation. Peopled with a depressed teenager, a washed-up actor and his baby-crazy wife, a sleazy estate agent, and a nearly bankrupt middle-aged couple trying to run a tutorial college, A Desirable Residence is haunted by a sense of missed opportunities and despair. As such, it's one of those stories where it's hard to find a character to root for. I decided to cast my lot with Jonathan, the husband of the bankrupt couple, despite, or perhaps because of, his minor status. Dependable, kind, and cautious at the risk of being dull, he serves as the moral compass as well as the most sympathetic character. But then, I always gravitate toward such types. Although I found the other characters interesting, they were more difficult to relate to.
I'd read somewhere that Madeleine Wickham began writing her Shopaholic books under the name of Sophie Kinsella because her Wickham books didn't do very well commercially and were considered kind of dark. The Shopaholic books, of course, are mostly light and happy with only the faintest undercurrent of disaster escaping to the surface. Which was probably why they were such a smash! Now everyone (myself included) reads the Wickham books too, heartened by the "Bestselling Author of the Shopaholic Series Writing as Sophie Kinsella" announcement beckoning from the cover. I like reading both because each offers a new slant on the author.