A Desirable Residence

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Liz and Jonathan Chambers are in trouble. Mortgage trouble. They've overextended themselves with their latest exciting project - exciting to Liz, that is - buying and managing the Silchester Tutorial College, and now can't sell their old house. So, here they are, with two mortgages, mounting debts, and a miserable adolescent daughter. Then Marcus Witherstone comes into their lives - and at first it seems he will solve all their problems. Marcus, senior partner in Silchester's leading real-estate agency, is large,...
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A Desirable Residence: A Novel of Love and Real Estate

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Overview

Liz and Jonathan Chambers are in trouble. Mortgage trouble. They've overextended themselves with their latest exciting project - exciting to Liz, that is - buying and managing the Silchester Tutorial College, and now can't sell their old house. So, here they are, with two mortgages, mounting debts, and a miserable adolescent daughter. Then Marcus Witherstone comes into their lives - and at first it seems he will solve all their problems. Marcus, senior partner in Silchester's leading real-estate agency, is large, assured, and wears an expensive coat. He brings the perfect tenants in from London to rent their old house - glamorous PR girl Ginny and the nearly famous Piers. Everything will be fine. As unintentional as it is inevitable, Liz and Marcus find themselves in the thralls of an adulterous tryst. While Marcus finds it all too easy to hide his affair from his wife, Liz spends her days wrapped up in blissful dreams of her lover. Jonathan, in the meantime, is left to run the school. And both parents are too preoccupied to notice the desperate passion developing in their daughter for the tenants, Piers and Ginny. Entanglements grow increasingly uncomfortable, and as events close in on Marcus, he begins to realize that some deceptions are just a bit too close to home.
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Editorial Reviews

Family Circle
Sharp and funny.
London Daily Express
Alan Acybourn meets Joanna Trollope...Witty and wise.
Kirkus Reviews
Though it sours a bit by the end, this British novel of manners and mores from the author of The Tennis Party (p. 172) charms with its easy pace and likable characters.

Enthusiastic Liz Chambers convinces her docile husband Jonathan to sell their family home and purchase the local tutorial college. She hopes to turn the cozy, uninspired academy into a modern, high turn-over, high-tech prep school. Which sounds like a solid plan, if only they weren't already sinking under extensive business loans. Into their distress wanders Marcus Witherstone, an affluent estate agent who, with genuine sympathy for Liz's angered desperation, pulls some strings at the bank, arranging, among other things, for the rental of their much-mortgaged house. Explained rather blithely as just one of those things, Marcus and Liz begin an illicit affair that seems to be based not so much on passion as on mutual boredom. Ironically, their relationship is the story's least interesting element: The tense relationship Marcus has with his young, brilliant wife, and the supportive relationship of Ginny and Piers, the young couple renting Liz's house, are both more absorbing than the clichéd adulterous affair. Marcus is far more interesting when he's scrambling to pull off a crooked real estate deal, or struggling with his wife to gain some influence over their young sons. Liz is also more interesting out of the hotel room, and more needed as teenage daughter Alice becomes obsessed with her friendship with Ginny and dashing husband Piers, who's an almost famous TV actor with troubles of his own. Though the story is overburdened with subplots, it's told in a conversational style that nicely strings all the characters together in an amiable, compelling way. The reader easily glides along until Liz begins engaging in happily-ever-after fantasies, scorning sweet Jonathan, and pushing Marcus too far.

All in all, Wickham, though an observant and engaging storyteller, delivers a novel too melodramatic and lightweight to be particularly memorable.

From the Publisher

“Enjoyable listening.” – AudioFile magazine

"Madeleine Wickham, aka Sophie Kinsella, first published this chick-lit black comedy in 1998, but only now has it found a voice in Katherine Kellgren...Frightful types and good eggs alike are given their own voices, and the whole thing is generously wicked fun." - The Washington Post on The Gatecrasher, Named one of Top Audio Books of '09

“Wickham is in stellar form in her latest…A well-executed and unexpected ending caps the dizzying action and demonstrates why Wickham is so deservedly on her genre's A-list.”—Publishers Weekly on The Gatecrasher

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312562779
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/22/2010
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sophie Kinsella

MADELEINE WICKHAM is the author of several bestselling novels, including The Wedding Girl, Sleeping Arrangements, and The Gatecrasher. As SOPHIE KINSELLA, she has written a number of bestsellers, including the Shopaholic series.

Biography

When we first meet Becky Bloomwood in Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic, she's a financial journalist in London who's quickly realizing that though she may be a writer for Successful Saving magazine, she could use help practicing what she preaches. She's helplessly driving herself into debt buying things she can't afford, at one point rationalizing that buying something 30 percent off is actually saving money. Becky was a hit with readers and spawned a franchise for Kinsella. In subsequent books, readers have followed her through a temptingly whirlwind series of adventures, with her best friend, Suze, and Luke, the love of her life, often along for the ride.

The Shopaholic books are little tours of fabulousness, where objects are introduced not as incidental to the story but as key players. Becky may not attend to certain life details such as bills or space to store all of her purchases, but she knows how to pay proper homage to the details in a dress or a vintage cocktail table. When she packs for a trip, we get the list of what she's bringing. What's more, she rationalizes and justifies purchases before you can say, "Credit or cash?" (The answer for Becky, by the way, is usually credit.)

Those who value integrity or depth in their fictional characters would be well advised to steer clear of Becky; but Shopaholic fans identify with her weaknesses, finding her more sympathetic than sinister. She can be maddening in her lack of discipline or self-reflectiveness, but Kinsella has taken a cue from Jane Austen's Emma by infusing her character with enough optimism, heart, and generous spirit to overcome her faults. Becky always reassuringly lands right-side-up, making these books a fun flight of fancy.

The author has interspersed her popular series with a handful of stand-alone confections featuring protagonists as charming and deliciously funny as the Shopaholic. Fortunately for her many fans, Sophie Kinsella has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of affection for her characters. May it fuel many books to come!

Good To Know

Some outtakes from our interview with Kinsella:

"I am a serial house mover: I have moved house five times in the last eight years! But I'm hoping I might stay put in this latest one for a while."

"I've never written a children's book, but when people meet me for the first time and I say I write books, they invariably reply, 'Children's books?' Maybe it's something about my face. Or maybe they think I'm J. K. Rowling!"

"If my writing comes to a halt, I head to the shops: I find them very inspirational. And if I get into real trouble with my plot, I go out for a pizza with my husband. We order a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea and start talking -- and basically keep drinking and talking till we've figured the glitch out. Never fails!"

"Favorite leisure pursuits: a nice hot bath, watching The Simpsons, playing table tennis after dinner, shopping, playing the piano, sitting on the floor with my two small boys, and playing building blocks and Legos."

"Least favorite leisure pursuit: tidying away the building blocks and Legos."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Madeleine Wickham (real name)
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 12, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, Oxford University, 1990; M.Mus., King's College, London, 1992
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

There wasn’t much point, Liz told herself, in getting upset. It wasn’t his fault, poor man. The estate agent had finished talking, and was looking at her concernedly, expecting a response. To gain time, she glanced out of the sash window of the office, the panes bright with the sun and raindrops of a confused September’s day.

There was a little courtyard garden outside, walled, with a white wrought-iron bench and tubs of flowers. It must be nice in the summer, she thought, forgetting that this still was, to all intents and purposes, the summer. Her mind always worked at least half a term ahead.

     ‘Mrs Chambers . . . ?’

     ‘Oh yes, sorry,’ said Liz, and turned back. ‘I was listening.’ She smiled at the estate agent. He didn’t smile back.

     ‘I did warn your husband at the time the property went on the market,’ he said, ‘that this might happen. I advised a price rather lower than your asking price.’

     ‘I know you did,’ agreed Liz. She wondered why he felt it necessary to remind her. Was he feeling defensive? Did he experience a need to justify himself; explain why their  house had been on the market for ten months with his agency and had failed to sell? She studied his young, well- shaven face for signs of I-told-you-so; if- you’d-listened- to- me . . .

     But his face was serious. Concerned. He was probably, she thought, not the sort of person who would countenance recriminations. He was simply pointing out the facts.

     ‘And now,’ he was saying, ‘you must make a decision. You have, as I see it, two realistic options.’ And a few unrealistic ones? Liz wanted to ask, but instead she looked intelligently at him, leaning forward slightly in her chair to show she was interested. She was beginning to feel rather hot; the sun was beating brightly through the panes of glass onto her cheeks. As usual, she had completely misjudged the early-morning weather and dressed for a brisk autumn day. She should perhaps remove a layer of clothing. But the thought of taking off her unwieldy jersey—which would necessitate first removing her spectacles and Alice band—to reveal a crumpled denim shirt, which might or might not be stained with coffee, seemed too much to contemplate. Especially in front of this smooth estate agent. She glanced surreptitiously at him. He didn’t seem to be too hot; his face was tanned but not at all flushed and his cuffs looked crisp and cool. Starched, probably, she thought, by his girlfriend. Or perhaps, bearing in mind how young he looked, his mother. The thought amused her.

     ‘Two options,’ she said, more agreeably than she had intended.

     A flicker of something like relief passed across his face. Perhaps he had been expecting a scene. But before Liz could react to it, he was back into well-grooved, grown-up professionalism.

     ‘The first option,’ he said, ‘would be to put your  house back on the market and drop the price considerably.’ Of course, thought Liz. Any fool could have told me that.

     ‘By about how much?’ she asked politely. ‘Realistically speaking,’ she added for good measure, stifling a sudden, inappropriate urge to giggle. This conversation was unreal. Next thing she’d be saying, Let’s have the cards on the table, or, Would you run that by me again . . . Pull yourself together, she told herself sternly. This is serious.

     ‘Fifty thousand pounds. At least.’

     Liz’s head jerked up in shock. The giggle rising up inside her suddenly subsided; she felt shamefaced. No wonder this boy’s handsome face was so concerned. He was more worried about her situation than she was. And, to give him his due, it was worrying.

     ‘We’ve already reduced it by twenty,’ she said, noting with slight horror that her voice was shaking. ‘And that’s less than the mortgage.’

     ‘I know,’ he said. He looked down at the papers on his desk. ‘I’m afraid the market has dropped considerably since you bought.’

     ‘Not that much. It  can’t have.’ Belated worry made her belligerent. Of course she had seen the headlines in the papers. But she’d always skimmed them with her eyes; assumed they had no relevance to her. She’d avoided the chat of friends, some overtly anxious, others smugly triumphant. The property market this, the property market that. For heaven’s sake. Stupid phrase, anyway. The property market. . . It made her think of rows of market stalls covered in tiny houses, each with a price label tied around the chimney.

     ‘We can’t sell it for so little,’ she added. She could feel her cheeks growing even more hot. ‘We just can’t. We won’t have enough to pay back the bank, and we only got the mortgage for the tutorial college on the basis of selling the  house. We had some people interested in it then; they actually made an off er.’ She stopped. A tide of humiliation seeped through her. How much older than this young man was she? And  here she was, blurting out all her money worries; looking to him for an answer.

     But he didn’t look as though he had one. His fingers ruffl  ed the papers on his desk anxiously; he avoided her eye. ‘I’m confident that if you reduced the asking price by the amount I suggested, we would have a sale within a very reasonable time- scale,’ he said. He sounded as though he was reading from a prompt card.

     ‘Yes, but we need more money than that!’ cried Liz. ‘We’ve got a mortgage to pay off. And now  we’ve got a business to run. And what’s a reasonable time- scale anyway?’ Too late, she realized her error. The estate agent’s head shot up, an unmistakable look of relief on his face at having been given a question he could answer.

     ‘Ah, well, these things always take a certain length of time,’ he began. ‘We’ll be promoting the  house afresh, highlighting the reduced price, targeting a different purchaser altogether.’

      As his voice droned on, happily outlining the benefits of local advertising and colour photography, Liz’s gaze wandered. She felt suddenly drained, worried and fearful. She had not, she realized, taken the sale of the  house seriously enough. When the first buyers had pulled out, she had almost been pleased. She could hardly bear the idea of strangers in their home, using their bathroom, their kitchen, sunbathing in their garden. Even though she had been the driving force behind the move in the first place.

     Of course, Jonathan couldn’t understand that. One night, several months ago, she had broken down in a torrent of weeping at the thought of leaving the  house for good, and he had stared at her in amazement.

     ‘But you  were the one who wanted to do all this,’ he had said, almost shouted. ‘It was your idea to buy the tutorial college in the first place.’

     ‘I know it was,’ she wailed, tears streaming hotly out of her eyes. ‘But I still don’t want to leave this  house.’ He gazed at her for a few seconds in stupefaction. Then his expression changed.

     ‘All right, darling, then we won’t.’ His voice suddenly firm, he lifted her chin and looked into her teary eyes, in a gesture straight out of a 1940s film. ‘We’ll stay  here. We’ll stay where we’re happy. I’ll phone the solicitors tomorrow.’

     ‘Oh Jonathan, why are you so stupid!’ Liz jerked her chin out of his grasp impatiently. She wiped her nose with her hand and pushed it exasperatedly through her hair. A second wave of tears, feeble and benign, squeezed their way onto her cheeks. ‘You never understand anything. Of course  we’re not going to stay here.’

     She had given a huge, shuddering sigh, and got up to close the window. When she returned to bed, Jonathan was facing the other way, not out of resentment, she was sure, but out of complete bewilderment. And she had realized that she really wasn’t being fair on him. Jonathan was inherently cautious; naturally unambitious. It had taken a lot of her enthusiasm to persuade him into this enterprise. And  here she was, weeping distressingly at him, worrying him unnecessarily.

     ‘Sorry,’ she had said, taking his narrow hand, watching his shoulders relax. ‘I’m just tired.’

     Since then, she had gone to the other extreme; maintaining a blithe, positive approach that swept them all along, through the documentation, delivery vans and detritus of the move; into the shabby little flat that they were now to live in; out of safety and into precarious uncertainty. While Jonathan paced anxiously about the small, dusty rooms of their new home, searching for plug sockets; while Alice shuffl  ed around blackly, in conspicuous, unspecified teenage gloom, she had been the one to smile, and throw open tea chests and sing Beatles songs, cheerfully mismatching tunes and lyrics. She had been the strong one; the face of reassurance. But now reassurance seemed to have slipped adroitly away from her, as though recognizing too great an adversary in the tidings of this fresh-faced, droning messenger.

     ‘A good interior makes all the difference,’ he was saying, as Liz’s senses snapped back into focus. ‘There’s a lot of competition out there; people with Jacuzzi bathrooms; conservatories . . .’ He looked at her expectantly. ‘I don’t suppose you’d consider installing a power shower? It might help attract buyers.’

     ‘Instead of dropping the price?’ said Liz, in slight relief. ‘Well, I don’t see why not.’

     ‘As well as dropping the price, I meant,’ said the estate agent, in a tone of almost amusement. It was that tone which suddenly touched her on the raw.

     ‘You want us to drop the price and install a new shower?’ She heard her voice screech; felt her face adopt the expression of outrage which she usually reserved for her most thoughtless pupils. ‘Do you realize,’ she added, slowly and clearly, as though to a class of sulky sixthformers, ‘that we are selling our  house because we actually need the money? That we haven’t decided to go and live in a tiny poky flat because we want to, but because we have to?’ She could feel herself gathering momentum. ‘And you’re telling me that because you haven’t been able to sell our house, we’ve got to put in a new shower at a cost of goodness knows how much, and then  we’ve got to drop the price by—what was it?— fifty thousand? Fifty thousand pounds! Do you have any idea what our mortgage is?’

     ‘Yes, well, it’s quite a common situation you’re in,’ the young man said quickly. ‘The majority of our clients have found themselves to be in a negative equity situation.’

     ‘Well, I’m afraid I don’t give a toss about your other clients! Why on earth should I care about them?’ She  wouldn’t, Liz decided as she listened to her own voice crescendo, let Jonathan know that she had yelled at the estate agent. He would only get cross and worry. Perhaps even phone up to apologize, for heaven’s sake. A spurt of indignation at her husband’s humility fuelled Liz further. ‘We put our  house on the market nearly a year ago,’ she shouted. ‘Do you realize that? If you’d sold it then, like you  were supposed to, we  wouldn’t be talking about new showers. We wouldn’t be lowering the price by such ludicrous amounts. We’d have paid off the mortgage, we’d be fine.’

     ‘Mrs Chambers, the property market—’

     ‘Sod the property market!’

     ‘Hear, hear!’ A rich, easy, expensive voice joined the ensemble. The estate agent started, forced a smile onto his face and swivelled in his chair. Liz, who had been about to continue, took a deep, gasping breath and looked round instead. Standing in the doorway of the office was a man in a tweed jacket, with dark brown eyes and crow’s-feet and an amused grin. As Liz watched, he took a couple of steps into the room and then leaned casually back against the door frame. He looked at ease; urbane and confident, unlike the young estate agent, who had begun twitchily rearranging the papers on his desk. The man in the tweed jacket ignored him.

     ‘Do carry on,’ he said to Liz, giving her a quizzical smile. ‘I didn’t want to stop you. You  were saying something—about the property market?’

Jonathan Chambers was sitting by the window in the grim little office of the Silchester Tutorial College, going through the last year’s business accounts. Miss Hapland, the former owner of the tutorial college, had done the books herself for thirty years in a manner which had become more and more idiosyncratic as the years progressed. In the months since her death, a nephew had perfunctorily taken care of the business side of things until the place was sold, and now the books looked even more confused than before.

     Jonathan frowned as he turned a page, and involuntarily wrinkled his nose at the rows of figures before him. It was a dull and wearisome job, this, which he had been tackling methodically at intervals since they had finally taken over the tutorial college that summer. He peered at the column headings and tried to ignore the odd ray of sunlight which played alluringly on the paper in front of him. This was the perfect afternoon for a walk or bicycle  ride—and the temptation to give up and go outside for some fresh air was tremendous. But he had told Liz he was going to spend the day sorting things out, and it  wouldn’t be fair to let her down. Not when she was out doing a day’s dreary shopping and tackling Witherstone’s about the  house.

     He paused in his thoughts, pen poised over a column of figures, and wondered how she was getting on. A sudden vision of a smiling estate agent popped into his mind. Yes, Mrs Chambers, I was going to phone you today. We had an offer on the  house yesterday. The buyers would like to complete as quickly as possible. Some chance. As far as he was aware, nobody had even deigned to look round the house in recent weeks. Let alone put in an offer. No one was interested. It was going to remain unsold. Mortgaged and unsold. The thought sent a small shiver of panic up Jonathan’s spine.

     They had only been given such a large mortgage to buy this tutorial college on the basis that their  house would be sold within months; that they would soon be able to pay off one mortgage completely. But instead of that, they now had two mortgages. The size of their total borrowing was horribly huge. Sometimes Jonathan could hardly bear to look at their mortgage statements; at the monthly repayments which seemed to loom so large on the horizon of their monthly bud get, and yet eat so little into the outstanding debt.

     It had never entered his mind, at the start of all this, that they might get to the stage where they had bought the college but not managed to sell their  house. They had always taken the sale of the house for granted; had even worried that it would sell too soon, before they were ready to move out. They’d put it on the market as soon as they’d decided to have a go at buying the tutorial college; and an offer had come along within weeks, from a young couple with a toddler and a baby on the way. A good off er; enough to cover the mortgage with some over. But they’d hesitated. At that stage they  weren’t certain whether they’d be able to raise enough money to buy the college. Was it wise to sell the  house prematurely? Jonathan wasn’t sure what to do; Liz thought they should wait until their plans  were firmer. So Jonathan stalled the buyers for a week while they thought about it. And during that week, the young couple found another  house.

     In hindsight, of course, they should have grabbed the off er while they had it. But how could they have known? thought Jonathan. How could they have predicted the dearth of interest in their house that had followed? He tried to be philosophical about their predicament. ‘The  house will sell eventually,’ he often said to Liz, trying to convince himself as much as her. ‘It will. We only need one person interested. Not twenty. Only one.’

     ‘We only need one, and he’s been unavoidably detained,’ he once joked, trying to jolly things up. But Liz wasn’t interested in jokes any more. For her, the sale of the  house seemed, in the last few months, to have taken on a new significance. It  wasn’t simply the money. In her mind, it almost seemed a yardstick; a sign that they would succeed. It was she who had insisted, as the new autumn term approached, that they should move out of the house and into the tutorial college, as they had always planned. She was almost superstitious about it. ‘If we don’t move now, we’ll be admitting defeat,’ she’d wailed, when Jonathan said that in his opinion it was no bad thing that they had a bit longer in the  house, just while they got used to running a business. ‘We’ve got to stick to the plan.  We’ve got to.’ Even though, as Jonathan pointed out several times, the plan was based on the assumption that by now, their  house would be sold. And even though Liz loved the  house more than any of them.

     There was a streak of fatalism in Liz which Jonathan found, on occasion, rather alarming. But experience had taught him not to argue with it. So they had moved out of their  house and into the little flat above the college, and left the  house empty, waiting to be sold. Liz had been, during the days since the move, almost maniacally cheerful, as if to prove to herself and everybody  else that they’d done the right thing; Jonathan already dreaded the tumble in her spirits, which would surely come.

     For himself, Jonathan really didn’t know whether they’d done the right thing or not. They’d both given up steady teaching jobs, a comfortable life and a secure future, to take on a business which, while not exactly declining, had certainly seen better days. If Liz was right, they would, between them, easily kick-start it into vitality, growth and profit. If Jonathan’s occasional pessimisms  were right, it was foolish for the two of them, with no business experience, to take on such an enterprise. But since they’d moved in, he had only once confided his worst fears to Liz. She had reacted savagely, as though he were accusing her of dragging them down into ruin; as though he were blaming her for a disaster which hadn’t even happened.

     ‘For God’s sake, Jonathan,’ she’d shouted. ‘Why do you have to be so negative? I mean, you wanted to buy this place, too, didn’t you?’

     ‘Of course I did—’

     ‘And now all you can do is worry about money all the time. Oh God!’ Liz gave the tea chest she was unpacking a little shove with her foot. ‘This is all hard enough, without you being miserable the  whole time.’

     And so Jonathan had postponed telling her that he was going to have to take out an extra loan. The original loan they’d been given to get the business going was running out, and they still hadn’t ordered all the equipment they wanted. They needed money for the beginning of term. They needed a bit extra for emergencies. Another five thousand should cover it. Or maybe ten, to be on the safe side.

     The bank had agreed immediately, pointing out in the same smooth letter that the interest rate on such a loan would necessarily be, as Mr Chambers must be aware, higher than that on the previous loan. Whilst we are confident in your ability to pay back this loan, we would point out that your total debt is now far in excess of that originally agreed. In partic ular, we are concerned that you are still maintaining two mortgages. Perhaps you could update us on the proposed sale of your property in Russell Street?

     Jonathan clenched his pen slightly harder, and stared out of the window. If only he could. If only he could get shot of that house, once and for all.

Liz could feel her cheeks burning hotter and hotter. Both the young estate agent and the older man in the doorway  were looking at her expectantly, obviously waiting for her to explain her outburst. She glanced at the twitchy young estate agent to see if he was going to say anything, but he was staring morosely downwards. It was up to her.

     She looked up, and smiled shamefacedly at the man in the doorway. ‘I’m sorry I shouted like that,’ she said.

     ‘Don’t be silly,’ exclaimed the man in the doorway. ‘Sod the property market! I  couldn’t agree more. What do you think, Nigel?’

     ‘Well yes, perhaps it would be nice,’ said the young estate agent, a craven half- smile appearing on his face. ‘Sod the lot!’ He began to laugh, then abruptly stopped, and cleared his throat.

     ‘And now,’ said the man in the doorway, turning to Liz, bestowing on her a charming smile, ‘do tell me:  were you just making a general observation, or did you have something specific in mind?’

     ‘Mrs Chambers—’ began Nigel.

     ‘Can tell us herself what’s on her mind,’ cut in the older man.

     ‘Yes,’ said Liz hurriedly, before she lost her nerve. ‘I’m sorry I got so cross,’ she began, ‘but really, it seems an impossible situation. We put our  house on the market ten months ago and it hasn’t sold, and now  we’ve moved and we really need to sell, and . . .’ What was the boy’s name? Oh yes, Nigel . . . ‘Nigel tells me that  we’re going to have to drop our price by fi fty thousand and put in a power shower to attract buyers. But, I mean, we can’t afford to do that.  We’ve just bought a business, you see, and we promised the bank we’d pay off the mortgage on the  house by the end of the summer. And  here we are in September . . .’ She spread her hands out helplessly. If she hadn’t been distracted by Nigel’s obvious growing discomfiture, she might have burst into tears.

     ‘What I said was—’ began Nigel, as soon as she stopped talking. The older man cut him off with an upraised hand.

     ‘We’ll return to the power shower in a minute, Nigel. Awful things, don’t you think?’ he added confidingly to Liz. ‘Like sticking needles in your back. Give me a good old-fashioned bath.’

     ‘I’ve never been in a power shower,’ admitted Liz.

     ‘Well, my advice is, don’t bother. Now, tell me, what is this business you’ve bought?’

     ‘We’ve bought Silchester Tutorial College,’ said Liz, unable to stop her mouth curving into a smile. They had actually bought a tutorial college. They were the owners of a business. It still gave her a thrill to articulate it; to watch for the reaction on people’s faces. This time it was even better than usual.

     ‘No! Really?’ The debonair, amused expression slipped from the man’s face, to be replaced by a disarming enthusiasm, and his eyes focused on Liz anew. ‘I was crammed for my O levels there. Wonderful place.’ He paused. ‘Actually, what am I saying? I still failed them all. But I’m sure that was my fault. I was a hopeless case.’ He smiled reminiscently. ‘I was taught English by Miss Hapland herself. I think she hated me by the end of it.’

     ‘She’s dead now,’ said Liz cautiously.

     ‘Really?’ His face fell briefly. ‘I suppose she must be. She looked pretty ancient even when she taught me.’

     ‘It only happened last year,’ said Liz. ‘That’s why the tutorial college was put up for sale.’

     ‘And you bought it. That’s wonderful! I’m sure you’ll have a much better calibre of pupil than I was.’

     ‘But you’re a graduate. You’re a qualified surveyor,’ objected Nigel, who was leaning back in his chair, staring gloomily at the ceiling. A cloud had passed over the sun; suddenly the room seemed colder and darker.

     ‘Oh, I got a few exams eventually,’ said the older man impatiently. ‘Anyway, that’s not the point. The problem  here is what to do about your  house. Where exactly is it?’

     ‘Russell Street,’ said Liz.

     ‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘I know. Nice family  houses. Got a garden, has it?’ Liz nodded.

‘Well, from what you’ve said, I would have thought one of your best bets might be to try and rent out your property for a while, just until prices pick up. Are you on a repayment mortgage?’ Liz nodded. ‘Well then,’ he smiled, ‘the rental income should cover at least part of your monthly repayment. Maybe the whole lot, with any luck!’

     ‘Really?’ said Liz, feeling a flicker of hope rising inside her.

     ‘And there’s no shortage of prospective tenants at the moment, especially for a nice, well-located  house like yours.’ He gave her a warm smile, and Liz felt suddenly overcome, as though his compliment  were to herself. ‘We can handle all the arrangements here, draw up a shorthold tenancy agreement, and then, when the market seems right, try and sell again. I certainly  wouldn’t be tempted down the route of power showers,’ he added, flicking an almost imperceptible grin at her. It’s you and me against that idiot Nigel, his look said, and Liz gazed back at him, feeling ridiculously warmed.

     ‘I only suggested installing a power shower in the context of my first mooted option,’ said Nigel, clearly not quite daring to adopt the defensive tone he would have liked. ‘I was about to proceed onto the rental option.’

     ‘Yes, well, perhaps you should have mentioned that first,’ said the older man, a steely note creeping into his voice. Nigel’s back stiffened, and Liz wondered for the first time who this stranger was. Someone important, obviously. ‘In fact,’ the man added, turning back to Liz, ‘I might even know some people who are interested. A very sweet girl and her husband. She does PR for us— you know Ginny Prentice,’ he said to Nigel, who nodded. ‘Lovely girl, husband’s an actor. I’m sure she said she was thinking of taking a place down this way. Your  house would do them perfectly.’

     ‘Gosh, that would be wonderful,’ said Liz. ‘But actually, I’m not sure about renting it out. I mean,  we’re supposed to be selling to pay off our mortgage. The bank might not like it if we have a mortgage on the  house and a mortgage on the business as well.’ She stared at him, mutely pleading, willing him to pull another rabbit out of the hat. He looked down at her consideringly. There was a moment’s still silence.

     ‘Who’s your lender?’ he suddenly said.

     ‘Brown and Brentford.’

     ‘Main Silchester branch?’

     ‘Yes.’ There was a pause, and Nigel looked up, a look of utter disapproval on his face.

     ‘I’ll see if I can sort something out,’ said the man. ‘No promises, of course. But I’ll try.’ He looked kindly at her, and Liz gazed back, pink-cheeked, gratitude filling her body like a balloon. She suddenly wished, foolishly, that she had bothered to put her contact lenses in that morning. Then abruptly the man looked at his watch. ‘Christ. Must fly. Sorry, I’ll be in touch. Nigel will give me your details.’ He gave her another crinkle- eyed conspirator’s smile.

     ‘But wait!’ cried Liz, her voice sounding shrill to her own ears. ‘I don’t know your name!’ A look of amusement passed afresh over his face.

     ‘It’s Marcus,’ he said. ‘Marcus Witherstone.’

From A Desirable Residence by Madeleine Wickham. Copyright © 2010 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 76 )
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(12)

4 Star

(10)

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(21)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 76 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2010

    NOT A NEW BOOK!!!

    This is an old book but selling as a new book! This should not be allowed!!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 14, 2011

    Disappointed

    I have typically liked this author ans flown through hrr books. Not this time! A very slow read....noy interesting....very little decent humor! Waste of money! Sorry! Quite a disappointment from a usually fibrant author!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2010

    A Classic Reissued??? Um....OK

    First, a word of warning...A Desirable Residence, even though it is portrayed as having a June 2010 publishing date, is NOT a new book. It was originally published in 1996, so I am confused as to why it has been reissued in hardcover. The only information I could find is from "The Daily Beast" website, which calls the novel "a reissued classic on 90s suburbia by Sophie Kinsella (AKA Madeleine Wickham) just in time for the beach." I think it is a little much calling this book "a classic", especially with To Kill a Mockingbird's 50th Anniversary this year, but so be it.

    A Desirable Residence is a sordid tale of the Chambers, Weatherstone, and Prentice families and their interconnections with each other. Jonathan and Liz Chambers, along with their daughter, Alice, have just bought a tutorial college and are deeply in debt. Ginny and B-list actor, Piers Prentice, have just rented out the Chambers' home. Marcus and Anthea Weatherstone try desperately to make their marriage work, despite very different views on parenting. One can guess correctly that the connections between these three couples will result in adultery, obsession, and greed.

    There is nothing really new here (literally). This is definitely a great novel to read on the beach in the dog-days of July. Just know that if you purchase this book in hardcover, chances are, you already read the exact same thing in 1996.

    MY RATING - 3/5

    To see my rating scale and other reviews, please check out my blog:
    http://www.1776books.blogspot.com

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 6, 2011

    Most horrific writing yet by Madeleine Wickham

    I really enjoy her fluffy reads but this was horrific. Slow, boring and pointless. I am sorry I spent money on this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    No Thanks!

    I have read all of the Shopoholic books and enjoyed them immensely, so I thought this would be a great pick for an audiobook to listen to while driving for work. Everything I liked about the Shopoholic novels is missing here - the characters are unlikable, the humor is less funny than unfortunate, and the ending was very unsatisfying. For me, the charming characters are what make these 'chick lit' books fun and entertaining, but you won't find any of that here. Katherine Kellgren does a nice job voicing the recording, and I found her easy to understand and pay attention to even while doing something else (driving).

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 7, 2010

    Awful

    I love Madeleine Wickham's books (including those written under Sophie Kinsella) I usually zip right through them - enjoying the writing, comedy and characters but this book is a failure.

    I am not at all surprised to find out that this book has been out before - years ago - you can tell! Her writing has grown exponentially since she has written this book.

    The characters are boring and not at all relatable or lovable. I don't care what happens to any of them. I'm still trying to get through the eleventh chapter.

    Not only are the characters dull, the plot is stupid and uninspired. I am majorly disappointed in this book and if I didn't know about Wickham's other work, I would never read her again - based on this lame book that I have yet pushed myself to finish.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2012

    I have to agree with other reviews

    I have to agree with all the reviews. Fortunately I bought this book at the store from the clearance section. I love to read and usually zip thru books. Not this one! I couldn't really get into it but kept reading hoping it would pick up. It finally got kinda interesting at the end and then just ended. Don't recommend it!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Desirable Residence or a Very Boring Residence

    Very disappointing!!!! Couldn't believe this is the same author as Sophie Kinsella - not even a comparison to her other books. Characters, ploot, etc., were BORING - at best! Didn't get past 50 - too many good books to drag through a book like this one. Normally an excellent writer - I wonder what the heck happened!!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    Okay book

    I did not particularly care for this story. I really like some of her other books though.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Sit down and enjoy the ride!

    Be careful what you wish for, if you get it you could find yourself right where Liz Chambers found herself. With two mortgages , two relationships and out of touch with her daughter who finds herself drawn to the family that moves into their old house.
    A desirable residence by Madeleine Wickham pulls you into the lives of two women and the breakdown of their relationships with their husbands and their children without trying to excuse them or make them more lovable like many of today's authors would have done.
    This was a refreshing read that I won from Gooodreads First Reads and stayed up till 3a.m. to finish.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2010

    Very disappointing

    I was very disappointed in this book as Sleeping Arrangements was great. I would not recommend this book. I struggled through half of the book and the ending was not at all what I expected. I have also read other Sophie Kinsella books and love them. I had high expectations for a great read and this did not hold up.

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  • Posted July 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A BIT MADCAP, A LOT OF FUN

    Those who enjoyed the over-the-top popular Shopaholic series will be delighted to find that Madeline Wickham (who wrote the Shopaholics as Sophie Kinsella) has returned with her trademark tart wit, unerring eye, and imagination to introduce us to Liz and Jonathan Chambers who find themselves thigh-high in debt thanks to two mortgages, sky rocketing bills and an unknowable, impossible young daughter, Alice.

    Set in suburban London Liz and Jonathan see no way out of their financial troubles until Marcus, a realtor, appears (more than appears as he and Liz begin an affair). Marcus is a busy guy - he also suggests that Jonathan and Liz rent their unsold home to a couple from London, wonderful idea until the tenants arrive - Ginny and Piers Prestice.

    Ginny is a glam gal with a PR job, and husband Piers is a wannabe actor who may or may not land a top spot on an upcoming soapie. Thus begins the merry mix-up (think a Noel Coward comedy of errors and characters). Surprisingly, Alice takes a liking to the Prentices; Anthea, Marcus's wife thinks Jonathan can do no wrong; Marcus regrets a past not-too-smart business deal There is an assortment of woes, enough for all and more.

    If we're still thinking of a Noel Coward comedy, it's Act III and Ginny hosts a party on the eve of Piers's all-important audition. You're going to have to listen to hear the fireworks at this festive event.

    Voice performer Kate Kellgren is the perfect performer to bring this cast of characters to life - she has perfect comic timing and a range that allows listeners to quickly and easily distinguish Liz from Ginny and Alice from Althea, etc.

    Loads of wily Wickham fun! Enjoy.

    - Gail Cooke

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  • Posted June 28, 2010

    This is NOT a new book!

    It was published in 1996 - don't know why they're re-publishing it. I was going to buy it and realized I already had it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted March 15, 2011

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    Posted June 27, 2010

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    Posted February 8, 2015

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    Posted August 13, 2010

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    Posted February 15, 2011

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    Posted July 16, 2011

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