Thursday, May 6, 2010

Philomena's Miracle - 1978

Philomena Parsons is feeling fine. Or maybe she's on crack. Even in a hallway with dreary margarine colored walls, brown lacquered woodwork and shiny, cracked lino she's feels as if she's in fairyland. Oh what the heck, the whole world is fairyland! Why? Our little honey-blonde Araminta/Outlier has just been placed on the State Register! She may now wear the coveted Silver Buckle. That amazing fact has brought a sparkle to her lovely green eyes (with preposterously long lashes). As she wheels Commander Frost, RN retired to the elevator she sees a handsome man leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets, eyes, it's not a little trash compacting's Walle (not WALL-E - which is totally how I now pronounce his name, darn it). He offers to help wheel Commander Frost, RN retired, onto the lift, which prompts Commander Frost, RN retired, to state; "She puts me in mind of my dear Lucy...not pretty of course...[she'll] make a good wife." As Philly (yes, Philly, get used to it) watches the lift doors close on the mysterious, good looking, tall, stranger, who wears good shoes and a tweed suit of masterful cut, Commander Frost, RN retired, says to Philly, "He would make you a splendid husband." Well, of course he would - but he may as well be a prince, because Philly is really Cinderella in disguise. Back home in the lovely Georgian Manor House, with River Frontage, Philly is hiding the reason behind her lack of self-esteem. A stepmother and two evil step sisters! Okay, not really evil, just selfish and lazy and incredibly beautiful. They actually "like" Philly. They like her to run errands, arrange flowers, carry breakfast trays and not clash with their clothes at birthday parties. Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Philly has no one to celebrate the passing of her finals, unless you count, the tall mysterious stranger who is waiting by the porter's lodge. Yep, it's the stranger from the lift - his name is Walle van der Tacx, he's Dutch, and he's a doctor. And he's inviting Philly to go out for a bite to eat. Yes! Philly will be happy to go out with you, Mr. Dutch Doctor with Masterfully Cut Tweeds...and for a bonus? Mr. Dutch Doctor drives a Maserati Khamsin, which Philly just happens to know costs upwards of 18,000 pounds. Philly dresses for her impromptu date in a hurry, and manages to make it down to the porter's lodge with 5 minutes to spare. Walle gives her a "compliment". "There you are - punctual too, a rare thing in a woman." Punctual? Umm...thanks? They manage to cover a lot of ground in their first date. Ages (23/36), marital/dating status (single/no boyfriends), where her family home is (Wareham - turns out Walle has been sailing in that area with an old college chum). Walle also happens to commit his first (of many) compliment faux pas. Walle might be awesome in so many ways, but the guy just doesn't seem able to give Philly a straightforward compliment, to save his life. Compliment Gone Bad (hereafter known as CGB) #1: I've got this beautiful, vivacious adopted cousin, Tritia, who gives life an added zest. She is a bit tiring, she loves to go out dancing until the wee hours, after having dinner. Would you like to go dancing, now that dinner's over? Umm...if you put it like that, no. And now for a melancholy interlude. Commander Frost, RN retired, is doing rather poorly. It is decided to cut the poor man up, even though he won't survive. Walle tells Philly, "...the Commander hasn't a chance, you know, but he wants me to operate." In the operating theatre, Philly finds out that Dr. van der Tacx is the anaesthetist. I'm a little confused. First he says that the Commander wants him to operate, then we find out he's the anaesthetist? Last I checked anaesthetists don't actually do surgery...but I digress. Commander Frost, RN retired, does indeed kick the bucket that evening, while Philly sits by his bedside holding his hand. Tears ensue. Walle takes Philly out for some fish and chips which they proceed to eat, IN THE MASERATI! I'm so impressed. Fast food eaten in a car. How very American of them. Walle consoles Philly, "There, there, my pretty." Which immediately transports me to Oz: "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!" Philly knows darn well that she doesn't look good when she howls, and she says so. Walle: "I'm looking, and I like what I see." Hey, girlfriend! When a man says that, you may as well start picking out your trousseau. Alas, Philly is seriously lacking in self-esteem, so no dice. Philly heads down to Wareham for step-sister Chloe's birthday party. She was thoughtful enough to buy an unobtrusive cream silk dress, so as not to class with her pretty step-sisters. Walle turns up in town, introductions...gobsmacked at step-sisters beauty...invited to Chloe's birthday party. Will CinderPhilly make it to the ball? Will CinderPhilly finish arranging flowers, setting tables, running errands, time to get ready? Barely, but she manages - her final touch being to discreetly spray her person with Vu perfume...which she didn't really care for. And now for CGB #2: "What remarkably pretty girls your sisters are - they quite take one's breath...but they haven't green eyes...I like your dress - it's pretty and it suits you....I did that badly didn't I? Forgive me; to admire your sisters and ignore you - I suppose I felt that I didn't need to tell you...." Didn't need to tell her what? What woman in the history of the universe wants to stand idly by while a man admires other women, and then get a compliment as an afterthought? Half way through the evening Walle finally asks CinderPhilly to dance...after gyrating and shrugging for a few minutes they head out to the verandah...for a nice little tête-à-tête where Walle commits CGB #3: " You're wearing the wrong kind of perfume - much too sophisticated for you...did you choose it?" How can she explain that it was a cast off of Chloe's? She says,"It's French and very expensive." Him: "And on the right person, quite delightful - but not on you." Just as he's going to explain to CinderPhilly what he means by that, in comes beautiful step-sister #2: Miriam(which is the same name as my one and only grand-daughter). Walle arranges to drive Philly back to London, which turns out to be a great opportunity to offer Philly a job in Holland working for him and his two partners. Sounds wonderful. And then we get - CGB #4: [my partner]...likes a sensible girl with no nonsense about her, and no immediate prospect of getting married - all the girls he has interviewed so far have boy-friends or want their evenings free." Wh-What? Has he just told Philly she is destined to be an old maid? Philly may not have much self-esteem, but she does have plenty of spirit, "You want a girl with no other interest but her work and possibly a little reading and knitting in her free time." She sounded tart....I'd sound tart too, if I was her. She does accept the job, and then after her month's notice, drives herself to Ommen, by way of the ferry at Sheerness - in sheeting rain. I'm so impressed with her driving ability - driving on the opposite side, in the sheeting rain and navigating road signs in a foreign language. Not only does Philly have spirit, she's also got guts and some mad driving skills, even if she only drives a Mini. Evidently Walle and his partners do not subscribe to fair labor laws...Philly has appalling work hours - basically 8am to 8:30pm five days a week, with morning surgery on Saturday. Which leaves Sunday as the only truly free day - except for the weekends when she is on call. (It brings to mind some of the worst excesses of the Industrial Revolution.) Philly doesn't see too much of Walle in Ommen - until a measles outbreak occurs, and she is drafted into helping inoculate a mass of recalcitrant youngsters...after hours. It takes a goodish while - longer than Walle imagined..."I had a date with Tritia...she will be very disappointed." How about Philly? Her evening was ruined too. Oh wait, she has no life. Walle apologizes the next day. Oops, your evening was ruined too...I should have at least given you a meal...Philly retorts, "I wasn't doing anything special, you must have realized that..." You must have realized that because that's why you hired me! Philly spends Sunday with Dr. and Mrs. Stanversen and meets the earnest Hubert - who, in spite of a couple of dates, never really gets the chance to become a muddier of waters. His idea of a date includes prosing on about oil wells in...zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...never mind, let's just say he's deadly dull - especially compared with Walle - who is spotted driving around in his Maserati with a gorgeous blonde. After spending most of a night taking care of an emergency haemorrhage case, Walle takes her to his home. I mean castle. So that she can sleep for a few hours before going back to work. No toothbrush? No problem. No nightie? Umm, sorry, my fabulous castle does not run to extra nightwear for surprise visitors. Besides, this is a great opportunity to meet Walle's mum and the luscious Cousin Tritia, the Rude, who's first words are "Who is this plain girl... she is terrible to look at!" Ouch. Yes, she did say it in Dutch, but Philly has been picking up quite of a bit of the local lingo and knows just what the teenage terror said about her. Did I mention that Tritia is only 19? Did I mention that one of the employees at the clinic told Philly that "everyone" expects Walle to marry Tritia? Okay, okay, now we're back on the same page...Philly takes the high road and pretends that she didn't really understand what Tritia the Rude said. Walle then figures out that she really did, so what does he do? Excuses Tritia's rudeness on the grounds that "...she's like a child." I agree. She's badly in need of some serious time-out. Perhaps in another country. Or on another planet. Philly finally gets to spend a weekend at Kasteel Tacx - and a lovely time is had - for the most part. Croquet is played on the lawn, horses are ridden in the meadows, insults are delicately flung by Tritia and when Philly gets home she finally realizes that she's rather foolishly fallen in love with her rich, handsome employer. "Cupid, she decided, was a wash-out...or perhaps he had run out of arrows." Luckily for Philly, measles raises it's spotty head again, so she is nicely busy at work - with little time to dwell on her newfound discovery. Walle invites Philly to spend Sunday with him again (remember, it's her only day off). She fibs and says that she's going to Friesland with Boring Hubert. Walle knows she's fibbing, so he shows up on Sunday morning(after breakfast) and asks her to go to lunch with him at his grandfather's place. Grandpa lives 170 MILES (not kilometers)! away. It's a good thing Walle drives a Maserati. Grandfather is very reminiscent of the dearly departed Commander Frost, RN retired, in that he can just blurt out whatever pops into his head. "No looks, lovely eyes, pretty figure...going to marry her, Walle? "Yes," said Walle. Now he just needs to convince Philly that he means it. Philly is still suffering from low self-esteem and doesn't quite believe Walle means it. He tells her he's going to wait to propose to her at a suitable time a place...she only has to wait a couple of days to find out what constitutes "suitable time and place" (I find this section quite, quite charming) Philly wakes up around 6am because Walle is tossing pebbles at her window. Awww. How cute is that? He's waiting outside on his horse - and he's brought a horse for her to ride. They discuss the slipperiness of fish, then Walle pops the question. After being reassured that Walle really does mean it, Philly says YES. But wait just a sec...there's still 37 pages to go?? Well, let's trot out the Family Jewels...this time it's rubies. And then another spot of croquet on the lawn, wherein Philly proves that she has at least some feminine wiles - she rests her hand on her croquet mallet so that Tritia can't fail to miss the gleam of 5 rubies surrounded by diamonds. Tritia's mum, who really is Evil Incarnate, comes to stay - she hates the interloper with the heat of a thousand hot hot suns. Walle seems pretty oblivious, and leaves Philly to her tender ministrations while he lopes off to some conference about something medical somewhere...RING!!! Dear Step-mama (remember her, from the beginning of the book?) calls to say that Chloe has chickenpox and needs, needs, NEEDS Philly to come and nurse her. Philly leaves a message with the evil aunt to pass on to Walle (like that's going to happen without some distortion!) Philly is then shuffled off to some unspeakable cottage in the middle of nowhere - with no access to the telephone...which, if it sounds a little like a hideout is because that is exactly what it is. Chloe is not really that sick, but she is terrified of anyone seeing her pock-marked face until it has healed. Where's Walle? He gets back to the castle to find that Philly is gone and Auntie Evil is lying. He cuts right through all the deception and gets to the truth, and then gives Auntie her packing orders. Oh, and take Tritia with you. Yay!! Now off to rescue Philly...he goes to the family home in Wareham and gets Step-mama to drive her car (he's in the Maserati) to the hideout. The big pay-off to this is that Walle convinces Philly that they should have a great big white wedding, with all the trimmings and invite as many friends and relatives as possible because he wants the whole world to share in their happiness. Just before the wedding we are treated to one more unthinkingly catty remark from Step-mama about how amazing it is that Philomena is going to marry such a rich handsome man...let's call it "Philomena's Miracle".

Rating: Even though this is sort of a cross between Cinderella and The Moon for Lavinia, it mostly worked for me. Sure, Walle sucked at giving compliments...but he was fairly consistent and most of his missteps were cute. Philomena's Miracle could have been really great, but somewhere around the middle it went a little pear-shaped. It's like The Venerable Neels lost track of which book she was writing...I'm giving this a boeuf en croute on the strength of Walle's backwards compliments and the white wedding he sort of forces on Philly.
Fashion: unobtrusive cream silk, silver nursing buckle, Jaeger short jacket with matching skirt, Jaeger trouser suit, green slacks with knitted green and white top, sensible canvas shoes, cotton shirtwaister in a Liberty print, white chiffon wedding dress.
Food: lobster fried with herbs and then covered and set alight with cognac, potato crisps, someone's birthday cake, rather stale biscuits, fish and chips, bag of toffees, stuck together, 3 lb. box of Fortnum and Mason's chocolates, meatballs and red cabbage.


  1. Re: "melancholy interlude"--I had the same problem when I read it. RDD is not a surgeon. However, I finally figured out that the person speaking was Mr. Dale not Dr. van der Tacx. Harlequin should have ponied up for a better copyeditor.

  2. I was so excited to see Eliza (Proudfoot) and Christian van Duyl ("Heaven is Gentle") show up, with baby Chris (implied conjugal relations--*contented sigh).

    I thought it was fun that the RDD, otherwise with the usual unflappable competence, was so very crappy at compliments and had awful timing. For once, the problem with her getting that he liked her was really mostly his fault, even though an uninterested party would have realized it.

    p.s. thanks for Pepé Le Pew!

  3. Thanks for pointing out the cross-over characters. I'm still on vacation and my internet access is EXCRUCIATINGLY I didn't look that up.

    I really, really liked all of Walle's backwards compliments. It was fun to have a RDD who was a little bit goofy.

  4. I think of this entire book as an Outlier -- it's almost a straightforward romance. The word "love" is spoken out loud, to each other, long before the end. And there's a LOT of snogging. (A lot. Her hair gets mussed. That much.) It takes Chloe getting measles for there even to be a hiccup at the end. And I think this is the only heroine with long straight honey blond hair. And a white wedding. (Cue the Billy Idol...)

    But something was off somewhere, so treacle tart for me. I'd think really hard about what it was but I'm late for my second trip to Philly in two days. (Heh.)

  5. The only thing about this book that's off for me is Philomena's name. Her nick name, Philly, is even worse. Otherwise, I like it a lot in all of its uniqueness!

  6. Sigh... I loved this one. I read it last night. I'm so tickled with the fact that the romance goes right along as it should. Really, the backwards compliments wouldn't be such a problem if Philly didn't have BN heroine approved low self esteem (LSE). He thinks she's perfect, so it doesn't occur to him that these things he says are going to bother her. And he does do an excellent job of convincing her when he proposes that he really really means it. I don't quite get the chicken pox part... I guess Betty hadn't made her page count. I like the fact that at no time does Walle misunderstand Philly or accuse her of anything as sometimes happens. He gets Auntie Evil's evilness right away. Happy sigh...:-)
    Oh, and I'm with you on the working hours. They are ridiculous!! And the pay is said to be not much more than the hospital pay. Girlfriend, you MUST be in love. :-)