(with guest discusser, Betty Magdalen)
Before I get to the book, I want to share a story with all of you; it's very Betty Neels-ian. My mother was the eldest of four daughters. One by one they married (at ages older than Betty Debbie's and Betty Keira's family prefers; in my family 25 seems a perfectly reasonable age, although my aunt-the-lawyer married at 30) -- all but the third sister, Mary Gray (known in the family as Sonny). She was a cellist and was working on her Ph.D. in music at age 40 when she got a phone call.
"Is this Mary Gray Clarke?" the caller asked.
"Yes." She didn't recognize the voice.
"This is Bill White. From Chapel Hill."
Sonny had done her undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, but she couldn't recall a classmate with that name. "I'm sorry, I don't remember you," she admitted.
"I was your Geology professor," he told her.
"Oh! Professor White!"
"I'm in D.C. for the weekend. I was wondering if you would come to dinner with me."
She said yes, and he took her out to dinner Friday night, again on Saturday night, and once more on Sunday night.
At the end of Sunday's dinner, he said to her, "I fell in love with you fifteen years ago when you were a student in my Geology 101 class. My wife died two years ago. Will you marry me?"
"But I don't know you," she said.
"I'll give you all the time you need." So he took her out pretty much every weekend for four months before she said yes. They were married in 1966, and truly lived happily ever after. At Bill's funeral, Sonny said that they'd had a 37-year-long honeymoon.
Maybe that's why I love Fate is Remarkable. Hugo waits five years after falling in love -- two before Sarah's made a sister and three while she's dating the hateful Steven (whose last name we never learn) -- before he can propose. Now, Hugo could have done what my uncle Bill did: just announced that he was in love with Sarah. But he was right not to, because she would have said no. (In the book, she reflects that to marry someone who loves you but whom you don't love would be a "towering wickedness." What a wonderful, stark term of disapprobation.) At the same time, he loves her too much to let her stumble through the discomfort of watching Steven marry Anne Binns (poor Anne Binns, by the way -- saddled with a professionally ambitious, personally sleazy bloke like Steven while she has only a lifetime at the O.P.D. to look forward to.) [Betty Debbie] I think we may have to add an "Anne Binns Effect" label - for all those wealthier than the heroine girls who get stuck with the ambitious cad.
However, the fact that I approve is all too obvious by my blatantly pro-Hugo concoction in place of the sort of hard-hitting, challenging review you have come to expect from Betty Debbie and Betty Keira. So, do to Hugo what I was too mealy-mouthed to do: let him have it. Tell him where he went wrong.
Meanwhile, he seems to keep getting in trouble for giving Sarah things. The hero's casual presentation of an engagement ring is de rigueur in these situations, and the earrings and matching pearls Sarah can attribute to his need to have her look like a consultant's wife. But the antique bowl she loves but won't ask for, or a "finely pleated silk dress" with a price Sarah finds "shattering" that he insists she buy in Avignon, those gifts she has to protest. Hugo finds it annoying, which I attributed the conflict that he's giving her his love in the form of stuff and she keeps seeing the gifts as stuff that cost a lot of money.
What struck me, though, is that even though Sarah comes from a solidly middle-class family (her father is a retired colonel, and her parents live in a nice house), Hugo's wealth makes her nervous. We know that Bettys are never, ever money-grubbing (that's left for the Veronicas), but what about Hugo's lifestyle (two houses, two cars, rich parents and sisters, etc.) doesn't sink in? Relax. He. Can. Afford. It. On the other hand, shouldn't Hugo have taken Sarah to the nice solicitor's office so that Mr. Sims could explain in that dry manner of fictional solicitors just how the trusts and investments were arranged? Surely that would have made the point that he has more than enough money annually from investment income to afford a quite lavish lifestyle, so he lives well, eats well, travels well, and pays Alice a tidy sum.
Okay, the only gift I had a problem with was the mink coat. Can't say as how the fact that it's ranch mink (meaning, animals bred and raised for the provision of fur) makes a difference to my sensibilities, but at least Betty Neels does spare the wild animals . . . so no sable or fox. Does any other Neels heroine wear fur? Betty JoDee? Betty Debbie? [Betty Debbie] I think our grandmother had a fur collar for her dress coat. Knowing our family it probably wasn't mink...more likely rabbit. Now that I think about it, Grandma Hellen might have had a fur coat/jacket. If she did, she most likely got it from a jumble sale or "Aunt Sally's" - there's no way it was bought new (unless Grandpa got it when it "fell off the back of a truck")
Hugo's name struck me as funny...I may have mentioned that I am a total LOTR nerd. I first read the books back in the mid-1970's...and reread them every 2 or 3 years thereafter. I passed that LOTR nerdiness down to most of my kids - so yes, we saw all the movies and bought all the DVDs - and watched all the "extras" so we are pretty familiar with names of actors (Viggo Mortensen *sigh*)...anyway, I like to think some casting director somewhere along the line was a Neels fan and managed to slip in someone with practically a Neels name.