At the age of eighteen, in that first golden Oxford summer, Milly was up for anything. Rupert and his American lover, Allan, were an important part of her new, exciting life, so when Rupert suggested to her that she and Allan should get married to keep Allan in the country, Milly didn't hesitate.
Ten years later, Milly is a very different person and engaged to Simon--who is wealthy, serious, and believes her to be perfect. Milly's secret history is locked away so securely she has almost persuaded herself that it doesn't exist--until, only four days before her elaborate wedding. To have and to hold takes on a whole new meaning when one bride's past catches up with her and bring the present crashing down.
With her trademark style of keen insight, and razor sharp wit, Madeleine Wickham introduces her fanatical fan-base, plus a host of new readers to a fresh and irresistible heroine in The Wedding Girl.
The usually reliable Wickham (Shopaholic series author Sophie Kinsella's alter ego) falters with this overplotted and heavy-handed smorgasbord of weddings and family shenanigans. Upon meeting wedding photographer Alexander Gilbert, Milly Havill realizes that he had photographed her when she first married 10 years earlier. Since that wedding was done as a favor to help keep Allan Kepinski, the American half of a gay couple, in England, Milly never told anyone about it, including her now-fiance, Simon Pinnacle. The thought of Alexander revealing her past sends Milly into a panic. But that's just the beginning: Simon is bent on bettering his multimillionaire father in business and in marriage; Milly's bitter father, James, seems to appreciate Milly's independent older sister, Isobel, more than Milly; Isobel gets pregnant and is certain the father would not want a baby; and Rupert, the other half of the couple Milly had helped out, is now a born-again Christian. Unfortunately, the characters' struggles with identity, abortion and homosexuality are filtered through strained prose and too-obvious setups. A lighter touch and a tighter story would have helped. (June)
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Thomas Dunne Books
June 22, 2009
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Excerpt from The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham
A group of tourists had stopped to gawp at Milly as she stood
in her wedding dress on the registry office steps. They clogged up
the pavement opposite while Oxford shoppers, accustomed to the
yearly influx, stepped round them into the road, not even bothering
to complain. A few glanced up towards the steps of the registry
office to see what all the fuss was about, and tacitly acknowledged
that the young couple on the steps did make a very striking pair.
One or two of the tourists had even brought out cameras, and
Milly beamed joyously at them, revelling in their attention; trying
to imagine the picture she and Allan made together. Her spiky,
white- blond hair was growing hot in the afternoon sun; the hired
veil was scratchy against her neck, the nylon lace of her dress felt
uncomfortably damp wherever it touched her body. But still she
felt light- hearted and full of a euphoric energy. And whenever she
glanced up at Allan--at her husband--a new, hot thrill of excitement
coursed through her body, obliterating all other sensation.
She had only arrived in Oxford three weeks ago. School had
finished in July--and while all her friends had planned trips to
Ibiza and Spain and Amsterdam, Milly had been packed off to a
secretarial college in Oxford. 'Much more useful than some silly
holiday,' her mother had announced firmly. 'And just think what
an advantage you'll have over the others when it comes to jobhunting.'
But Milly didn't want an advantage over the others. She
wanted a suntan and a boyfriend, and beyond that, she didn't really
So on the second day of the typing course, she'd slipped off
after lunch. She'd found a cheap hairdresser and, with a surge
of exhilaration, told him to chop her hair short and bleach it.
Then, feeling light and happy, she'd wandered around the dry,
sun- drenched streets of Oxford, dipping into cool cloisters and
chapels, peering behind stone arches, wondering where she might
sunbathe. It was pure coincidence that she'd eventually chosen a
patch of lawn in Corpus Christi College; that Rupert's rooms
should have been directly opposite; that he and Allan should have
decided to spend that afternoon doing nothing but lying on the
grass, drinking Pimm's.
She'd watched, surreptitiously, as they sauntered onto the lawn,
clinked glasses and lit up cigarettes; gazed harder as one of them
took off his shirt to reveal a tanned torso. She'd listened to the
snatches of their conversation which wafted through the air towards
her and found herself longing to know these debonair, goodlooking
men. When, suddenly, the older one addressed her, she felt
her heart leap with excitement.
'Have you got a light?' His voice was dry, American, amused.
'Yes,' she stuttered, feeling in her pocket. 'Yes, I have.'
'We're terribly lazy, I'm afraid.' The younger man's eyes met
hers: shyer; more diffident. 'I've got a lighter; just inside that window.'
He pointed to a stone mullioned arch. 'But it's too hot to
'We'll repay you with a glass of Pimm's,' said the American.
He'd held out his hand. 'Allan.'
She'd lolled on the grass with them for the rest of the afternoon,
soaking up the sun and alcohol; flirting and giggling; making
them both laugh with her descriptions of her fellow secretaries.
At the pit of her stomach was a feeling of anticipation which increased
as the afternoon wore on: a sexual frisson heightened by
the fact that there were two of them and they were both beautiful.
Rupert was lithe and golden like a young lion; his hair a shining
blond halo; his teeth gleaming white against his smooth brown
face. Allan's face was crinkled and his hair was greying at the
temples, but his grey- green eyes made her heart jump when they
met hers, and his voice caressed her ears like silk.
When Rupert rolled over onto his back and said to the sky, 'Shall
we go for something to eat to night?' she'd thought he must be
asking her out. An immediate, unbelieving joy had coursed through
her; simultaneously she'd recognized that she would have preferred
it if it had been Allan.
But then Allan rolled over too, and said 'Sure thing.' And then
he leaned over and casually kissed Rupert on the mouth.
The strange thing was, after the initial, heart- stopping shock,
Milly hadn't really minded. In fact, this way was almost better:
this way, she had the pair of them to herself. She'd gone to San
Antonio's with them that night and basked in the jealous glances
of two fellow secretaries at another table. The next night they'd
played jazz on an old wind- up gramophone and drunk mint juleps
and taught her how to roll joints. Within a week, they'd become
a regular threesome.
And then Allan had asked her to marry him.
Immediately, without thinking, she'd said yes. He'd laughed,
assuming she was joking, and started on a lengthy explanation of
his plight. He'd spoken of visas, of Home Office officials, of outdated
systems and discrimination against gays. All the while, he'd
gazed at her entreatingly, as though she still needed to be won
over. But Milly was already won over, was already pulsing with
excitement at the thought of dressing up in a wedding dress, holding
a bouquet; doing something more exciting than she'd ever
done in her life. It was only when Allan said, half frowning, 'I can't
believe I'm actually asking someone to break the law for me!' that
she realized quite what was going on. But the tiny qualms which
began to prick her mind were no match for the exhilaration pounding
through her as Allan put his arm around her and said quietly
into her ear, 'You're an angel.' Milly had smiled breathlessly back,
and said, 'It's nothing,' and truly meant it.
And now they were married. They'd hurtled through the vows:
Allan in a dry, surprisingly serious voice; Milly quavering on the
brink of giggles. Then they'd signed the register. Allan first, his
hand quick and deft, then Milly, attempting to produce a grownup
signature for the occasion. And then, almost to Milly's surprise,
it was done, and they were husband and wife. Allan had given Milly
a tiny grin and kissed her again. Her mouth still tingled slightly
from the touch of him; her wedding finger still felt self- conscious
in its gold- plated ring.
'That's enough pictures,' said Allan suddenly. 'We don't want
to be too conspicuous.'
'Just a couple more,' said Milly quickly. It had been almost impossible
to persuade Allan and Rupert that she should hire a wedding
dress for the occasion; now she was wearing it, she wanted to
prolong the moment for ever. She moved slightly closer to Allan,
clinging to his elbow, feeling the roughness of his suit against her
bare arm. A sharp summer breeze had begun to ripple through her
hair, tugging at her veil and cooling the back of her neck. An old
theatre programme was being blown along the dry empty gutter;
on the other side of the street the tourists were starting to melt
'Rupert!' called Allan. 'That's enough snapping!'
'Wait!' said Milly desperately. 'What about the confetti!'
'Well, OK,' said Allan indulgently. 'I guess we can't forget
He reached into his pocket and tossed a multicoloured handful
into the air. At the same time, a gust of wind caught Milly's veil
again, this time ripping it away from the tiny plastic tiara in her
hair and sending it spectacularly up into the air like a gauzy plume
of smoke. It landed on the pavement, at the feet of a dark- haired
boy of about sixteen, who bent and picked it up. He began to look
at it carefully, as though examining some strange artefact.
'Hi!' called Milly at once. 'That's mine!' And she began running
down the steps towards him, leaving a trail of confetti as
she went. 'That's mine,' she repeated clearly as she neared the boy,
thinking he might be a foreign student; that he might not understand
'Yes,' said the boy, in a dry, well- bred voice. 'I gathered that.'
He held out the veil to her and Milly smiled self- consciously
at him, prepared to flirt a little. But the boy's expression didn't
change; behind the glint of his round spectacles, she detected a
slight teenage scorn. She felt suddenly aggrieved and a little foolish,
standing bare- headed, in her ill- fitting nylon wedding dress.
'Thanks,' she said, taking the veil from him. The boy shrugged.
He watched as she fixed the layers of netting back in place, her
hands self- conscious under his gaze. 'Congratulations,' he added.
'What for?' said Milly, without thinking. Then she looked up
and blushed. 'Oh yes, of course. Thank you very much.'
'Have a happy marriage,' said the boy in deadpan tones. He
nodded at her and before Milly could say anything else, walked
'Who was that?' said Allan, appearing suddenly at her side.
'I don't know,' said Milly. 'He wished us a happy marriage.'
'A happy divorce, more like,' said Rupert, who was clutching
Allan's hand. Milly looked at him. His face was glowing; he seemed
more beautiful than ever before.
'Milly, I'm very grateful to you,' said Allan. 'We both are.'
'There's no need to be,' said Milly. 'Honestly, it was fun!'
'Well, even so. We've bought you a little something.' Allan
glanced at Rupert, then reached in his pocket and gave Milly a little
box. 'Freshwater pearls,' he explained as she opened it. 'We
hope you like them.'
'I love them!' Milly looked from one to the other, eyes shining.
'You shouldn't have!'
'We wanted to,' said Allan seriously. 'To say thank you for being
a great friend--and a perfect bride.' He fastened the necklace
around Milly's neck, and she flushed with plea sure. 'You look
beautiful,' he said softly. 'The most beautiful wife a man could
'And now,' said Rupert, 'how about some champagne?'
They spent the rest of that day punting down the Cherwell,
drinking vintage champagne and making extravagant toasts to each
other. In the following days, Milly spent every spare moment with
Rupert and Allan. At the weekends they drove out into the countryside,
laying sumptuous picnics out on checked rugs. They visited
Blenheim, and Milly insisted on signing the visitors' book, Mr
and Mrs Allan Kepinski. When, three weeks later, her time at secretarial
college was up, Allan and Rupert reserved a farewell table
at the Randolph, made her order three courses and wouldn't let
her see the prices.
The next day, Allan took her to the station, helped her stash
her luggage on a rack, and dried her tears with a silk handkerchief.
He kissed her goodbye, and promised to write and said they would
meet in London soon.
Milly never saw him again.
Ten Years Later
The room was large and airy and overlooked the biscuity
streets of Bath, coated in a January icing of snow. It had been refurbished
some years back in a traditional manner, with striped
wallpaper and a few good Georgian pieces. These, however, were
currently lost under the welter of bright clothes, CDs, magazines
and make- up piled high on every available surface. In the corner
a handsome mahogany wardrobe was almost entirely masked by
a huge white cotton dress carrier; on the bureau was a hat box;
on the floor by the bed was a suitcase half full of clothes for a
warm- weather honeymoon.
Milly, who had come up some time earlier to finish packing,
leaned back comfortably in her bedroom chair, glanced at the
clock, and took a bite of toffee apple. In her lap was a glossy magazine,
open at the problem pages. 'Dear Anne,' the first began. 'I
have been keeping a secret from my husband.' Milly rolled her
eyes. She didn't even have to look at the advice. It was always the
same. Tell the truth. Be honest. Like some sort of secular catechism,
to be learned by rote and repeated without thought.
Her eyes flicked to the second problem. 'Dear Anne. I earn
much more money than my boyfriend.' Milly crunched disparagingly
on her toffee apple. Some problem. She turned over the page
to the homestyle section, and peered at an array of expensive
waste- paper baskets. She hadn't put a waste- paper basket on her
wedding list. Maybe it wasn't too late.
Downstairs, there was a ring at the doorbell, but she didn't
move. It couldn't be Simon, not yet; it would be one of the bed
and breakfast guests. Idly, Milly raised her eyes from her magazine
and looked around her bedroom. It had been hers for twenty- two
years, ever since the Havill family had first moved into 1 Bertram
Street and she had unsuccessfully petitioned, with a six- year- old's
desperation, for it to be painted Barbie pink. Since then, she'd
gone away to school, gone away to college, even moved briefly to
London--and each time she'd come back again; back to this room.
But on Saturday she would be leaving and never coming back. She
would be setting up her own home. Starting afresh. As a grownup,
bona fide, married woman.
'Milly?' Her mother's voice interrupted her thoughts, and
Milly's head jerked up. 'Simon's here!'
'What?' Milly glanced in the mirror and winced at her dishevelled
appearance. 'He can't be.'
'Shall I send him up?' Her mother's head appeared round the
door and surveyed the room. 'Milly! You were supposed to be
clearing this lot up!'
'Don't let him come up,' said Milly, looking at the toffee apple
in her hand. 'Tell him I'm trying my dress on. Say I'll be down in
Her mother disappeared, and Milly quickly threw her toffee
apple into the bin. She closed her magazine and put it on the floor,
then, on second thoughts, kicked it under the bed. Hurriedly she
peeled off the denim- blue leggings she'd been wearing and
opened her wardrobe. A pair of well- cut black trousers hung to
one side, along with a charcoal grey tailored skirt, a chocolate
trouser suit and an array of crisp white shirts. On the other side
of the wardrobe were all the clothes she wore when she wasn't
going to be seeing Simon: tattered jeans, ancient jerseys, tight
bright mini skirts. All the clothes she would have to throw out before
She put on the black trousers and one of the white shirts, and
reached for the cashmere sweater Simon had given her as a Christmas
present. She looked at herself severely in the mirror, brushed
her hair--now buttery blond and shoulder- length--till it shone,
and stepped into a pair of expensive black loafers. She and Simon
had often agreed that buying cheap shoes was a false economy; as
far as Simon was aware, her entire collection of shoes consisted
of the black loafers, a pair of brown boots, and a pair of navy
Gucci snaffles which he'd bought for her himself.
Sighing, Milly closed her wardrobe door, stepped over a pile
of underwear on the floor, and picked up her bag. She sprayed
herself with scent, closed the bedroom door firmly behind her and
began to walk down the stairs.
'Milly!' As she passed her mother's bedroom door, a hissed
voice drew her attention. 'Come in here!'
Obediently, Milly went into her mother's room. Olivia Havill
was standing by the chest of drawers, her jewellery box open.
'Darling,' she said brightly, 'why don't you borrow my pearls
for this afternoon?' She held up a double pearl choker with a diamond
clasp. 'They'd look lovely against that jumper!'
'Mummy, we're only meeting the vicar,' said Milly. 'It's not
that important. I don't need to wear pearls.'
'Of course it's important!' retorted Olivia. 'You must take this
seriously, Milly. You only make your marriage vows once!' She
paused. 'And besides, all upper- class brides wear pearls.' She held
the necklace up to Milly's throat. 'Proper pearls. Not those silly
'I like my freshwater pearls,' said Milly defensively. 'And I'm
not upper class.'
'Darling, you're about to become Mrs Simon Pinnacle.'
'Simon isn't upper class!'
'Don't be silly,' said Olivia crisply. 'Of course he is. His father's
a multimillionaire.' Milly rolled her eyes.
'I've got to go,' she said.
'All right.' Olivia put the pearls regretfully back into her jewellery
box. 'Have it your own way. And, darling, do remember
to ask Canon Lytton about the rose petals.'
'I will,' said Milly. 'See you later.'
She hurried down the stairs and into the hall, grabbing her
coat from the hall stand by the door.
'Hi!' she called into the drawing room, and as Simon came
out into the hall, glanced hastily at the front page of that day's Daily
Telegraph, trying to commit as many headlines as possible to
'Milly,' said Simon, grinning at her. 'You look gorgeous.' Milly
looked up and smiled.
'So do you.' Simon was dressed for the office, in a dark suit
which sat impeccably on his firm, stocky frame, a blue shirt and a
purple silk tie. His dark hair sprang up energetically from his
wide forehead and he smelt discreetly of aftershave.
'So,' he said, opening the front door and ushering her out into
the crisp afternoon air. 'Off we go to learn how to be married.'
'I know,' said Milly. 'Isn't it weird?'
'Complete waste of time,' said Simon. 'What can a crumbling
old vicar tell us about being married? He isn't even married himself.'
'Oh well,' said Milly vaguely. 'I suppose it's the rules.'
'He'd better not start patronizing us. That will piss me off.'
Milly glanced at Simon. His neck was tense and his eyes fixed
determinedly ahead. He reminded her of a young bulldog ready
for a scrap.
'I know what I want from marriage,' he said, frowning. 'We
both do. We don't need interference from some stranger.'
'We'll just listen and nod,' said Milly. 'And then we'll go.' She
felt in her pocket for her gloves. 'Anyway, I already know what
he's going to say.'
'Be kind to one another and don't sleep around.' Simon
thought for a moment.
'I expect I could manage the first part.'
Milly gave him a thump and he laughed, drawing her near and
planting a kiss on her shiny hair. As they neared the corner he
reached in his pocket and bleeped his car open.
'I could hardly find a parking space,' he said, as he started the engine.
'The streets are so bloody congested.' He frowned. 'Whether
this new bill will really achieve anything . . .'
'The environment bill,' said Milly at once.
'That's right,' said Simon. 'Did you read about it today?'
'Oh yes,' said Milly. She cast her mind quickly back to the Daily
Telegraph. 'Do you think they've got the emphasis quite right?'
And as Simon began to talk, she looked out of the window
and nodded occasionally, and wondered idly whether she should
buy a third bikini for her honeymoon.
Canon Lytton's drawing room was large, draughty and full of
books. Books lined the walls, books covered every surface, and
teetered in dusty piles on the floor. In addition, nearly everything
in the room that wasn't a book, looked like a book. The teapot
was shaped like a book, the firescreen was decorated with books;
even the slabs of gingerbread sitting on the tea- tray resembled a
set of encyclopaedia volumes.
Canon Lytton himself resembled a sheet of old paper. His
thin, powdery skin seemed in danger of tearing at any moment;
whenever he laughed or frowned his face creased into a thousand
lines. At the moment--as he had been during most of the
session--he was frowning. His bushy white eyebrows were knitted
together, his eyes narrowed in concentration and his bony
hand, clutched around an undrunk cup of tea, was waving dangerously
about in the air.
'The secret of a successful marriage,' he was declaiming, 'is
trust. Trust is the key. Trust is the rock.'
'Absolutely,' said Milly, as she had at intervals of three minutes
for the past hour. She glanced at Simon. He was leaning forward,
as though ready to interrupt. But Canon Lytton was not the
sort of speaker to brook interruptions. Each time Simon had taken
a breath to say something, the clergyman had raised the volume
of his voice and turned away, leaving Simon stranded in frustrated
but deferential silence. He would have liked to take issue
with much of what Canon Lytton was saying, she could tell. As
for herself, she hadn't listened to a word.
Her gaze slid idly over to the glass- fronted bookcases to her
left. There she was, reflected in the glass. Smart and shiny; grownup
and groomed. She felt pleased with her appearance. Not that
Canon Lytton appreciated it. He probably thought it was sinful
to spend money on clothes. He would tell her she should have
given it to the poor instead.
She shifted her position slightly on the sofa, stifled a yawn,
and looked up. To her horror, Canon Lytton was watching her.
His eyes narrowed, and he broke off mid- sentence.
'I'm sorry if I'm boring you, my dear,' he said sarcastically.
'Perhaps you are familiar with this quotation already.'
Milly felt her cheeks turn pink.
'No,' she said, 'I'm not. I was just . . . um . . .' She glanced
quickly at Simon, who grinned back and gave her a tiny wink.
'I'm just a little tired,' she ended feebly.
'Poor Milly's been frantic over the wedding arrangements,' put
in Simon. 'There's a lot to or ga nize. The champagne, the cake . . .'
'Indeed,' said Canon Lytton severely. 'But might I remind you
that the point of a wedding is not the champagne, nor the cake;
nor is it the presents you will no doubt receive.' His eyes flicked
around the room, as though comparing his own dingy things with
the shiny, sumptuous gifts piled high for Milly and Simon, and his
frown deepened. 'I am grieved,' he continued, stalking over to the
window, 'at the casual approach taken by many young couples to
the wedding ceremony. The sacrament of marriage should not be
viewed as a formality.'
'Of course not,' said Milly.
'It is not simply the preamble to a good party.'
'No,' said Milly.
'As the very words of the ser vice remind us, marriage must
not be undertaken carelessly, lightly, or selfishly, but--'
'And it won't be!' Simon's voice broke in impatiently; he leaned
forward in his seat. 'Canon Lytton, I know you probably come
across people every day who are getting married for the wrong
reasons. But that's not us, OK? We love each other and we want
to spend the rest of our lives together. And for us, that's a serious
matter. The cake and the champagne have got nothing to do
He broke off and for a moment there was silence. Milly took
Simon's hand and squeezed it.
'I see,' said Canon Lytton eventually. 'Well, I'm glad to hear
it.' He sat down, took a sip of cold tea and winced. 'I don't mean
to lecture you unduly,' he said, putting down his cup. 'But you've
no idea how many unsuitable couples I see coming before me to
get married. Thoughtless young people who've barely known each
other five minutes; silly girls who want an excuse to buy a nice
dress . . .'