Thursday, May 20, 2010

Paradise for Two - 1988

Prudence Makepeace...I have to say that I love, love, love her name. And that's about as far as my love for this character goes for the first 60 pages. She is described as "a nice girl" and "good natured"...but heaven knows she isn't - at least whenever Haso ter Brons Huizinga is around. They get off on the wrong foot and Prudence spends lots of time being "chilly", "snappy", "pointed", "cross", "tart", "annoyed"... So much so, that I feel, snappy, cross, annoyed...you get the idea.
Prudence, an Olivia (tall shapely redhead) if ever there was one, has been a nurse at a London hospital, but has recently quit in order to apply for a job in Scotland. Why Scotland? To get her far away from Walter. She finds that she doesn't love Walter, and never has (a junior executive stockbroker who considers himself somewhat of an expert on "Modern Art"...which is just as bad, if not worse than a junior doctor who takes one out for Chinese food). Her Aunt Beatrix (who I am delightedly going to call "Aunt Bea") invites her to go to Holland with her for a few weeks. Aunt Bea is not really her aunt, Prudence tells Walter, she a "courtesy aunt" - she's Prudence's godmother and good friend to her real Aunt Maud. Prudence isn't too sure she wants to go, so Aunt Bea throws down her trump card...she's an unstable diabetic - and she's going to visit her sister who has been in the hospital with heart trouble. *WARNING* *WARNING* Many hours of unpaid nursing ahead. Off to Holland they go...with Aunt Bea and her mountain of luggage, including a trunk that takes 2 men to carry it. No, they don't drive, they FLY. Can you imagine the extra luggage costs? I can't.
At Aunt Emma's house (which is described as "massive" - so obviously the RDD doesn't live here), Prudence runs into a man she assumes is the gardener. Nope. She sees him a few minutes later (with clean hands, this time) up in Aunt Emma's room - where he is formally introduced as her nephew Haso ter Brons Huizinga. She speaks sharply to him, he's mildly insulting to her.....and we're off! Off on the wrong foot, that is. They never seem to be able to have a civil conversation...Prudence always has her daggers drawn. We find out pretty early on that he is only 33 years old to her 25 - amazingly close in age for Neeldom. They seem doomed to eternal bickering until Aunt Bea obliges them by sneaking a bunch of chocolates and going into a diabetic coma. Then they get to spend the night together while she is wearing a lovely crêpe-de-Chìne dressing gown with matching nightie and satin slippers. This dressing gown gets a fair amount of mileage in the book, so get used to it. Aunt Bea pulls out of the diabetic coma and promises to do better...Prudence gets an afternoon off (remember, she's not getting paid...)so Haso hijacks her and takes her to his fairytale castle of a home. The gardens and grounds are beautiful...as well they should be. Haso's mum adores gardening. She is to be found pruning roses in the greenhouse while listening to the radio (Haso's mum evidently lives with him...which fact is never really stressed). Another trip to visit her, this time with the aunts...while the old ladies have a cozy chat, Prudence is allowed off her leash to roam the gardens. She discovers a swimming pool nicely screened by trees. While sitting in this "Paradise for Two" who should appear? Haso and Christabel! Christabel van Bijl (which I always read as van Bilge) and Prudence are so not destined to become BFF's. Not even close. Their verbal cat-fighting is easily the best part of the book. I love and loathe Christabel. While Prudence is a tall shapely redhead, Christabel is a tall shapeless blonde telephone pole. A telephone pole with teeth.

Christabel: My what a large strong girl you are! I am sure to be bruised from your handshake. It must be ever so helpful for your job that you are so burly.
Prudence: It is a good thing I'm big and burly...someone has to take care of the weaklings of the world.
Haso: Fifteen all.
Christabel: We're going to a ballet this evening. I was fabulous at ballet until I grew to be a telephone pole.
Prudence (ever so sweetly): You would need stamina.

Little sister Sebeltsje(yes, that's her name) tells Prudence that Haso is not just a doctor, he's a professor and a senior partner. Really? At 33? But wait! That's Not All! He's a Professor of Surgery. Professor Haso invites hardworking Prudence out to dinner...without giving her time to say no. She decides that she will start faking a bad headache around 6:00pm - but that's a no-go. Haso calls her up in the morning and warns her that she'd better not get a headache. "I shall come and haul you out of bed and take you to dine in your nightie. A charming one, if I remember aright." He remembers aright (see, I told you that nightie would get some mileage). He might be a little interested in her at this point, but we're never really sure. Yes, he does take her out for dinner wherein, under the auspices of armed neutrality, he plies her with booze in the form of sherry, 2 glasses of hock and 2 glasses of champagne. She then asks him if it's okay to drink and drive in Holland. Of course not! Haso drinks a cup of coffee and off they go (I'm wondering at this point what the "legal blood alcohol limit" in Holland was back in 1988).
Guernsey Island Interlude:
Prudence and the courtesy aunts go on vacation - in spite of the fact that Prudence is still not drawing any wages and really ought to get busy and find a real job. It's here that she meets Jerome Blake, Fortune Hunter. The snake- hipped Mr. Blake seems awfully cozy with the hotel staff - they feed him all sorts of nuggets of information - verifiable and non. He learns that Aunts Bea and Emma are filthy rich - so he assumes their "niece" Prudence is due to fall heir to their filthy richness. Too bad he didn't do his homework. He does turn a bit nasty when Prudence turns down his proposal of marriage and tells him she doesn't have any money. Lucky for Prudence - Haso turns up to run the blighter out of town. And does a spot of comforting the sniveling Prudence. Hark! Is that the sound of a softening heart? Haso does ask Prudence if they are beginning to like each other...but she's not ready to go that far yet. He does go on to ask her why she isn't married yet...Prudence admits to the desire to be swept off her size 9's and showered with roses and diamonds and champagne (which sounds prickly, bumpy and sticky - all at once). I sense some foreshadowing going on here. A day or two back in Holland and it's time to go back to Aunt Maud's (real, not courtesy aunt). What's that Haso? You will drive Prudence home? Lovely. Tot-zeins! A handy bit of snogging (which Prudence decided that she enjoyed) on the ferry deck and then home to Aunt Maud where our heroine has some mail awaiting. Sister in charge of Women's Surgical in Aberdeen, Scotland! Let's get a reply to that in the mail! The very day Prudence gets a confirmation letter that she has the job, Haso shows up again. As soon as she claps her eyes on him she knows! Her Dawning Realization comes like a shower of cold water and leaves her breathless...which is just as well, because Haso is here to whisk her back to his castle...to do another spot of unpaid nursing. His mum has a ruptured appendix and peritonitis and she wants Prudence to nurse her. No, no, I can't go - I have a job in Aberdeen. Haso calmly dials up the hospital and gets her terminated. In spite of being wildly in love with Haso, willing to go through fire and water for him, Prudence is still mulish about going with him, but go with him she does. Back to Holland. (for those counting, this will be her third trip this summer!). Haso's mum comes home from hospital and Prudence puts her nose to the grindstone. When she finally gets an free afternoon (remember, not being paid!), Prudence borrows a bike and promptly gets herself lost in a thunderstorm. Haso finds her (but she doesn't spend much time probing his motives) and takes her back home - even though she is stubborn and mulish about it (again). His mum would really rather Haso fell for Prudence instead of Christabel, so she gets a bit sneaky and asks Prudence to come read to her (after Prudence has put on her fetching nightie) Oh hello, son - don't mind us. Prudence goes to bed, but then gets back up to leave a note for the cook...she hears Haso and his mum talking - waters are muddied...Prudence then calls up Aunt Maud and asks her to fake an illness or something so that she has a good reason to leave immediately. Aunt Maud is game, she calls in the morning saying she has a broken leg...needs Prudence home. Haso knows what's going on - he saw Prudence on the stairs the night before...so he volunteers to drive Prudence home - which of course horrifies her. He then takes her hand and pulls her into the house - in to a small room that is bursting with roses, there's champagne in a bucket and he offers her a sapphire ring with diamonds. Snogging ensues. The End. What?? The End??? Yeah...pretty abrupt.

Rating: Remember back at the beginning when I complained about Prudence? I never got to where I liked her. Her only shining moments for me was when she was having her verbal catfights with Christabel. Here is a sampling of words used to describe her or her tone of voice: waspish, sharp, shrill, pettish, snappy, wooden, scathing, chilly, cross, pointed, annoyed, etc...Ugh. She puts me in mind of Enchanting Samatha who I found less than enchanting. Haso comes off as unusually tepid for a RDD. I'm going to give this one a Madeira cake on the strength of verbal catfights and a trip to Guernsey Island.
Fashion: Jersey three piece in a flattering shade of pale green, the infamous dressing gown and matching nightie, slim sheath of corn coloured silk, indigo blue silk jersey
Food: enough lobster dishes to put the poor creatures on the endangered species list, a forbidden box of chocolate, tomatoes with forcemeat stuffing (ew?), trifle, courgettes in cream sauce, new (as opposed to old?) herrings served on slivers of toast, mouthwatering salad, Charlotte Russe, fresh mushroom salad, strawberries and thick Guernsey cream.

6 comments:

  1. I really, really want that nightie and dressing gown pictured in the review. Can someone forward this to Professor van der Hertenzoon?

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  2. This was a terrible book. Sorry -- beans on toast for me.

    Here's what happened: As you know, I mysteriously disappeared around the time you published this review (coincidence, truly) and then missed a few months. So I thought I'd read some of the books I'd missed.

    I started with this one - and oh, my, is this a bad book. Haso says something in Dutch to Prudence when he first sees her in the aunt's garden. She doesn't ask him what he said. I thought it might be one of those "A charming girl -- I shall marry her" bits.

    So I kept waiting for her to say, "Haso, darling, what was it you said when you first saw me? You said something in Dutch, do you remember?"

    "Oh, yes. I said, 'There you are, the woman I've been waiting for.' And as you walked away, I said, 'I'm going to marry you.'"

    Right? Wouldn't that have been a better ending? But no -- she never asks, he never volunteers, and we never find out what was said.

    In fact, there's one point when he backtracks and seems to be one of those RDDs who thinks, "She is a tiresome chit," only in Prudence's case he'd be right.

    Beans on bloody toast. (Sorry for swearing.)

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  3. The reason for new herrings and not "old" as in your review is that herring is a very popular dish served up but its always the new herring, fresh and raw with a bit of chopped onion served on a roll, yummy, had one when I arrived in Amsterdam airport last time I was there. Fresh herring straight from the sea, best tasting of course.

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  4. I love it when a Betty clears up a question. New or old I would still be hard pressed to eat them though. Not a herring fan, you see...

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  5. This is a sweet coincidence and has nothing to do with herring.
    I searched my stacks for an extra Betty that I could release for bookcrossing and do a Betty in the Wild for UJD while traveling this week. I had 3 copies of this one, Betty Ariel must has bought the newest edition. Silly girl, she should know I have them all.
    So, soon, coming to an email near you, Betty Keira, will be a picture graced email with photos from our day at the lodge in Vermont where Prof Vue der Plane and I are celebrating our 32 wedding anniversary. Yes I was a July bride. I may even include the photo with the professor in his baby blue tux!
    Don't expect it before the weekend. We are on a romantic getaway! Meaning: No KIDS!

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  6. Not for me. This is one of Betty's worst, do I mean not-so-goods. She couldn't write anything that would qualify for WORST!!!!! I just couldn't believe Prudence being so antagonistic, and Haso being so blah!!!!

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