Fleur Daxeny is 40 years of age, immoral, beautiful, and very devious. To this day, she has gotten through life by "gatecrashing" funerals - that is, spotting the grieving widower and charming her way into his life, and Gold credit card. Richard Favour is her latest prey - he, still feeling the ripples of the death of his wife Emily, a woman he deified but never truly knew, falls head over heels in love with her, and she, spotting an easy cash in, leads him on. This is no simple shag-and-rob situation however, as we are introduced to his dysfunctional family: his terrified, unconfident adult daughter Philippa, trapped in an unhappy marriage to her domineering, cruel husband Lambert; his growingly apathetic teenage son Antony, his quiet, martyr-like sister-in law Gillian, and a secret of his wealth, a wealth that even the most goldigging shrew can only dream of.
Madeleine Wickham, aka Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic books, does like her social satire, and this is certainly one of her finer efforts. She captures the many facets of the comfy Surrey life - daily trips to the clubhouse, wherein the members initially judged Fleur as the harlot she is, before slowly succumbing to her charms, as well as the tragic realness behind the forced smiles - Philippa and Lambert's marriage is one of the saddest strands of any of Wickham's creations, and as Lambert's harshness to his wife increases, so does Philippa's self-loathing.
Key to any good book, however, is a protagonist we can know and love, and Fleur most certainly is not that. In my eyes, she was nothing short of a Jezebel, who needed to Bye Felicia asap (preferably, crushed by all the money she conned out of her many conquests.) Such was my dislike for Fleur, that I also didn't take to her daughter, Zara, a pretentious 13-year-old who speaks with an American accent and smokes joints, but in an effortless way, mind, so she must be cool. Her "romance" with her mother's boyfriend's son, Antony, bordered on paedophilic, and the way the two of them "shared a bed" was a horrible prelude to what Will and Lyra were to do a few years later. Nice.
That said, there were two characters I didn't want to stab. Gillian, the deceased Emily's long-suffering sister, was a curious one. At the start, she was painted like the holier-than-thou woman who's sister has just passed away, and takes to judging the woman who tries to fill her shoes. As the book goes on, however, we see how she suffered under the control of her sister, who, despite having many friends and admirers, turns out to be a nasty piece of work, one who made her daughter feel worthless, made her son feel conscious of his birthmark, and never warmed to her husband. The husband, Richard, is the other only good character. Bland at the start, strokes of colour are added to his personality as time goes by. He is a geniunely good man, perhaps not the best parent, but he recognises his folly just in time.
A curious book - for a chicklit, it evoked far more feels than it should, and made me pine for the female characters of Sophie Kinsella - as selfish and materialistic as Becky Bloomwood ever was, she would never intentionally string a man along so heartlessly as Fleur does. Above it all, however, there is a heart - Zara, pleading with her mother to ditch her man-hopping a settle down, reminds us that, when all is said and done, home is where the heart is.