Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Gatecrasher

Fleur Daxney is a professional gold-digger: she crashes funerals to meet vulnerable, wealthy widowers. Beautiful and charming, she seduces them into handing her large sums, after which she disappears. The men, realizing that they've been had, are then too ashamed of having been so foolish and gullible to run after her.

I appreciate Sophie Kinsella's courage to write (as Madeleine Wickham) a novel different from her Shopaholic series, especially after its success in terms of sales. However, the main character's major dilemma, her relationships, nor the underlying sense behind her behavior and motivations just does not fly. I felt that I was being forced to accept the psychology behind, and, consequently, the credibility of Fleur's actions.

In the story, Fleur is epitomized as a cunning, experienced con artist, but it takes her so much longer than her previous conquests to seduce widower Richard Favour. Favour's 33-year marriage was dispassionate and, at best, "dry and sensible". I couldn't reconcile this description of his married life with his egregious grief at his wife's death. There is not enough proof in the entire novel to warrant such sentimentality that, had he not suppressed his emotions, "hot, sentimental tears would now have been coursing uncontrollably down his cheeks... and he would have been swept away by a desperate, immoderate grief". Even Favour's relationship with his 2 children is detached and impersonal--- whereas they almost instantly warmed up to Fleur, a fact that should have worked to her advantage and to the expediency of her schemes--- making the author's portrayal of Fleur as a smooth and skilled con artist all the more unconvincing.

Fleur, despite Wickham's efforts to blame her flaws on her unpleasant childhood, still comes across as utterly selfish and incapable of any genuine affection. Aside from paying her school fees, Fleur seems uninterested and not even remotely curious about her daughter's life. Her occasional display of tenderness especially towards her daughter seems false and unnatural.

(Major spoiler here. Go on only if you don't mind knowing how the story ends before you read it.)

The novel, for me, is a disappointment--- it opted for a happy ending that feels weak. Whether Fleur's decision to return to Favour was driven by her growing love for him (which Wickham fails to paint as anything beyond mild fondness, perhaps for his gentle manner), or by her desire to give her daughter a life with a semblance of normalcy (which seems abrupt and uncharacteristically indulgent)--- the ending lacks conviction; with the events leading up to it but forced and futile attempts at effecting more substance and coherence to the novel.

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