When Patrick Chance and his wife host a smashing weekend tennis party, each invitee arrives knowing their part in a hierarchy of certified successes and undeniable failures. By the end of the event, the hierarchy has crumbled, and everyone finds that their place has changed considerably. As they send their kids off to enjoy the pony rides and rehearsals for a play, the adults are knocked down like bowling pins, standing up once again to find the world around them reconfigured in ways they never would have thought possible.
40 LOVE, Madeleine Wickham’s latest novel to be released in the U.S., is like a book version of director Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, where whatever rules everybody arrived expecting to play out twist and turn into hideous new expectations by the end of the affair.
Wickham is actually Sophie Kinsella, the author of the bestselling Shopaholic series, and 40 LOVE is her first novel, originally published in the UK in the 1990s. She is an engaging author, utilizing all the tools of her big casts and fancy society background to fashion a fast-action, “Melrose Place” type of farce, where couples hook up and break up and rearrange themselves, in terms of love and other types of alignment. And the title, which was originally “The Tennis Party,” gives you a big wink-wink, nudge-nudge before you even begin to get into this tale of three couples who think they have it all figured out but, by the end of the “party,” have learned a lot of stuff they hadn’t planned on learning.
Annie and Stephen are the poor couple, severely overmortgaged and trying desperately not to look like it. Charles and the wealthy Cressida are the evil smarmy couple, upper crusty and annoying, and Don and Valerie are the nasty father and daughter team who are there to take everybody down with their tennis prowess. Of course, Charles is trying to convince everyone to get involved in some shady financial scheme, which brings to the fore some long-hidden facts about Cressida’s background. If you’ve read books like this before, you won’t be surprised at all by the ups and downs that these six people encounter in a short time, but you will be engaged and entertained by the bumbling fools (and occasional smarties) that populate this little weekend sojourn in the country.
Things are so hard right now that, for those of us who are hoping for better financial days around the corner, reading about nasty, rich people is sometimes a happy thing to do; after all, it’s nice to know that money can’t buy happiness. At least that’s the case in 40 LOVE, which is why you should put it on your bedtime reading pile for a little light and enjoyable perusing before the day is over. It will be interesting to see what life Wickham’s work will have beyond the Shopaholic branding. If 40 LOVE is any indication, I’m sure her fans will be happy to follow her on and off the court, and in and out of the lives of nutty British folk wherever they roam.