The Tennis Party by Madeline Wickham
It was Patrick's idea that they should have the tennis party. After all, he has the perfect setting - the White House, bought out of his bonuses as an investment banker. He hasn't actually told Caroline, his brash and beautiful wife, what the real reason for the party is. She is glad to welcome Stephen and Annie, their impoverished former neighbours, less glad to see newly wealthy Charles and his aristocratic wife Cressida, and barely able to tolerate the deadly competitive Don and Valerie.
But as the first ball is served over the net it signals the start of two days of tempers, shocks, revelations, the arrival of an uninvited guest, and the realization that the weekend is about anything but tennis.
As with all Madeline Wickham books, this book clips along at a good pace, doesn't get bogged down in superfluous description or words and looks at reality in a way that can be eye-opening and uncomfortable, whilst confirming 'no one knows what goes on behind closed doors'.
As with most of the books the author writes under Madeline Wickham, it isn't easy to like most of the characters - or at least you like elements of them, whilst disliking other elements. I didn't love any of the characters here but nor did I hate any of them. Some were more likeable than others, one in particular was very unlikeable and even nasty. On one hand you could understand on an intellectual level from where she was coming, on the other hand, I felt like saying 'just grow up and put the past behind you'.
All of MW's characters seem very real, after all we all have good points and we all have bad points and that applies to all of the characters in the book. I'm not sure I would want to be friends with any of them, to be honest, but I could pass the time of day with most of them without any problem. It's the realness and the balance that makes her books work so well, in my opinion. You can understand, either emotionally or intellectually or even both, from where all the characters are coming and that adds to the realness of them.
There are twists and turns and as the blurb says, the book is anything but about tennis - that goes on in the background and in a way mirrors the people, their actions and their characters. It doesn't detract from the story, it enhances it, but equally you don't need to really know anything about tennis to follow the story or enjoy the book.
There are indeed shocks and the biggest of all leaves you realising that even the family that on the face of it 'has it all' a) doesn't have it all and b) can lose it all in a blink of an eye - and not from any active fault of their own.
As with the previous MW book I read for ljbookbingo, the ending doesn't tie everything up with a neat bow. In fact this book fully ties up very little. And yet it didn't leave me unsatisfied - something that is a rare achievement. She is a very good writer.