THERE’S something deliciously bittersweet about a jilted bride ending up as a wedding planner.
Cleckheaton-born Wendy Holden’s latest novel, Honeymoon Suite, is a delightful romantic comedy, fizzing with zeitgeist bubbles just waiting to be pricked.
Nell Simpson is a London singleton, bored with her social life and the dull copywriting job she took on when her PR business went under. When a first date ends in a cringeworthy case of mistaken identity, she ends up in the arms of a seemingly romantic charmer, who turns out to be anything but.
Meanwhile, hot new writer Dylan Eliot is under pressure to produce a follow-up to his debut novel, but is distracted by his passionate girlfriend - a dangerously fiery woman, in more ways than one.
Fate (or an unlikely coincidence, depending on how romantic or cynical the reader is) leads both Nell and Dylan to the Pemberton Estate, a stately home in the rural East Midlands, with a picture postcard village. While Nell sets about re-building her future, following a humiliating episode in her love life, Dylan tries to move on from a trauma that has left him bitter and haunted. Along the way, they encounter a collection of colourful characters dotted about the estate; including Jason, the gossipy but kindly hotel manager whose thoughts are never far from a handsome, albeit inept, barman, and Angela, monstrous head of Human Resources who spends much of her time propping up the hotel bar, plotting revenge on anyone who has wronged her - from a strapping gardener who spurned her advances to the pretty incomer who lands a marketing job, after the Earl of Pemberton takes a shine to her.
Then there’s gentle, green-fingered pensioner George, who comes to have a significant impact on both Nell and Dylan.
As is the way of all satisfying romantic comedies, the pair initially deny their chemistry, blaming each other for past events, but as they negotiate the twists and turns of new beginnings, the will-they-won’t-they frisson builds nicely, with a few surprises along the way.
“The crossed wires had got too tangled and tightly bound ever to be undone now. They would never agree. He would never persuade her, especially as she clearly felt herself the victim. What did she mean, he’d ruined her life? What about his? She had no idea what he’d been through.”
Honeymoon Suite is a fun read, packed with razor-sharp send-ups of various aspects of modern life. Nell’s new job sees her immersed in the bewildering world of wedding fairs, tasked with organising a Pride and Prejudice themed-wedding, complete with mood boards and period dancing.
“The First Dances Company offered to immortalise that special moment of the wedding reception in forms ranging from DVDs to oil paintings to specially created perfumes”...”a floppy-haired photographer specialised in the ‘engagement’ photo album. Nell looked through a sample album featuring a happy couple-to-be posed in a sunlit meadow next to an artfully arranged bicycle whose wicker basket overflowed with daisies. She suppressed a sigh. In her case, the prequel had been the happiest period of the whole ghastly business.”
There are beautifully observed gems throughout. I particularly enjoyed the niche catalogues Nell writes for, including Eggheads - flogging “iconic crocheted antimacassars and other knowingly grannyish knitted goods” - and Year Zero, with its eco-chic range of “weekend bags made from recycled Cambodian rice sacks”. And hasbeen thespian Caradoc Turner will be familiar to anyone who has ever sat through a creaky whodunnit in a provincial theatre.
Honeymoon Suite is a perfect beach read, or for curling up with on a rainy afternoon.