Thursday, October 7, 2010

An Apple from Eve - 1981

I thought I didn't like An Apple from Eve...but guess what? It's not half bad. There's quite a lot to like about this book...but it does have a couple of flaws.
First of all, our girl's name is Euphemia. Which I persist in pronouncing 'you-FEEM-ee-ya', which is probably wrong. The name 'Euphemia' means 'to speak well'. I'm not sure this definition particularly applies to our girl. Euphemia was also the name of a 3rd century martyr The Great Martyr Euphemia, which does sound a little more like her. Euphemia is pretty great, but she does have a bit of a martyr tendency.
Euphemia (so sorry about the name) is driving home to Hampton-cum-Spyway in her aging Morris 1000. She's stuck at a light, right next to a great socking Bentley. Said Bentley is being driven by a handsome man with a 'high forehead' Question: is 'high forehead' possibly a euphemism for 'receding hairline'? Discuss. She's concerned about the wheezing and gasping coming from under the bonnet...but not as concerned as she's going to be when she gets home to find her father wheezing and gasping. Mr. High Forehead is standing in her father's bedroom with Dr. Bell. Guess what? Daddy's dying. No one has told Euphemia, even though she is:
  • Twenty seven years old.
  • A Nurse.
  • The oldest child.
  • Named after a martyr.

Dr. van Diederijk (he of the 'high forehead') has the final say-so about whether to operate on the Colonel's dicky heart...but frankly, it's a case of too little, too late. His bedside manner might be great, but Euphemia finds him cold. As Cold as Ice. Colonel Blackstock dies in the early morning hours without ever saying a word. He's left four orphans behind - Euphemia, age 27, Ellen, 20ish and two boys who are still going to boarding school (the older one is named Nicky). The boys are not important to the story at all - except for cluttering up the house with electric train sets and old hockey sticks, they may as well not exist.

The colonel, unlike most Neels parents, had managed to do a little estate planning. His boys are taken care of. There is a fund for their education. Besides that, the only thing the old man left were debts and a heavily mortgaged house. Euphemia does a few sums and decides that she will have to work really hard so that she can pay off the mortgage (in about 15 years) - because Nicky should inherit the house. Ellen is to go live with Aunt Thea in Middle Wallop. Dr. Bell gives Euphemia a little financial advice, Why don't you rent the house out? Euphemia is struck. That's a brilliant idea! No sooner said than done - Sir Richard Blake (who works at St. Cyprian's with Euphemia) has mentioned her house to someone...that someone turns out to be none other than Dr. Cold as Ice-High Forehead Guy. She's not thrilled, but money is money, and he's willing to fork over plenty of green.

Dr. van Diederijk arranges to have a walk through of Myrtle House (which sounds like a wood carving business). Euphemia races around cleaning and turning rugs before putting some cakes in to cook while she's tarting herself up. Euphemia is a forthright girl...she may have turned rugs so that they present their best side...but she doesn't shy away from pointing out the tear in the entryway carpet. Dr. van D. remarks that she could have it repaired - to which she mentally snorts, if you have the money for it. The house isn't all that he could wish for...he offers to put in another bathroom, on his dime. Euphemia can't figure out what a bachelor needs with a third bathroom.

Soon after moving to Myrtle House, Dr. van Diederijk throws a drinks party - he invites his landlady. That would be Euphemia. She gets her first glimpse of Diana Sibley, baronet's daughter, RDD's fiancee. She looked cold. As cold as Dr. van Diederijk. If they had children, they would be a bunch of little icicles. Euphemia hasn't had anything solid to eat all day, so she snags an apple and has a seat on the stairs. Eve and the apple, says he. He's come to get introduce her to his fiancee. She hands him the apple core and prepares to engage the enemy.

Back at St. Cyprian's, Dr. van Diederijk shows up with Sir What's-his-face. He's the new consultant. That means Euphemia is going to have a lot more time with her tenant. Which gives her time to reflect on his still-single status. The only reason she can come up with for Diana the Dreadful and Dr. van Diederijk not to tie the knot is that they just don't love each other enough. Bingo. Girlfriend has hit the nail on the head. This doesn't mean she wants to have a go at him. Far from it.Dr. van Diederijk has a proposition to make. Diana the Dreadful has had a case of the mumps. He bribes her to act as nurse. The bribe? He dangled her old house in front of her like a carrot in front of a donkey. Sister Ellen and the boys can stay in the house during the upcoming school holiday.

Him: Poor Diana has been suffering. She is languid and listless.

Her: Why can't she just recuperate in England?

Him: She's in low spirits and out of sorts, and frankly doesn't want to be seen by her friends. She needs...

Her: She wants someone to brush her hair, massage on creams and feed her up.

Him: She's the ethereal type.

Her: That's all very well, but see what happens when she gets a bit off colour - she loses pounds and looks like a matchstick.
Him: What a rude young woman you are.

Her: (Best line in the book) You did say mumps? (I want that on a t-shirt).

On the flight to Spain, Euphemia gets to thinking about Dr. van Diederijk and Dreadful Diana. Dr. van Diederijk is in need of rescuing! thinks she. Dreadful Diana whinges on and on about her illness. It was just mumps, right?
Poor Euphemia is reduced to eating rabbit food - both Diana and her aunt are light eaters. Besides short rations, Euphemia also has very little real time off. The first time she gets a break she practically stumbles over a wounded little boy, very dirty, pupils are unequal a sign that there was some local brain damage. Mrs. Kellard and Diana refuse him entry. Lucky for the little blighter that Euphemia is not a quitter. She starts down the driveway with him in her arms. Lucky again for him that Tane (yes, that's his name, get used to it) drives up in a taxi in time to drive them to hospital.
Tane asks her how Diana is coming along. She lifts her hand and starts ticking off: Her hair is better, her skin is more supple and she may have gained some weight - but she's still way too bony.
Tane informs the Diana and Euphemia that he plans to make a slight detour on the way back to England. A one day stop-over in Holland. That'll be all nurse, I'm sure you're tired after your little adventure with the dirty little guttersnipe. Yes, Diana is being just as gracious as usual - it's just her way of getting Tane to herself. Euphemia has to stifle a strong urge to thump her. Personally, I think a thumping would be good for her.
Tane takes advantage of Diana's habit of sleeping in and accompanies Euphemia on a shopping expedition the next morning. They have a lovely time, right up until Euphemia sticks her forthright foot in it. Why don't you get married? (Oh my gosh! I love him! I want to marry him!) Ah well, it's too late in the day for that. Or is it?
Even though Tane only has one day in Holland with the girls, he manages to check off many of the requisite RDD musts.
  • Meeting with mother and father.
  • House Tour O' Love.
  • Garden Tour O' ditto.
  • Meeting the household help.
  • Scrumptious meal that helps make up for the short rations in Spain.
  • Fiancee is introduced to another man - Cor de Vries (who sounds like an internet college). He may as well be a drive-by set-up for all the exposition we get.
  • Awesome snogging. Oh, you mustn't! Then she leans right back in and kisses him back.
  • Have you considered selling your house?
  • Him: Is there anyone you'd like to marry? Her: Your roses are magnificent. Him: Do I know him? Her: Isn't that a mandarin duck?
All that before breakfast the next day. Mama van Diederijk is pretty great. She wonders why Diana hasn't come down for breakfast yet. It was just the mumps, wasn't it?Euphemia is feeling a little awkward, so she takes to avoiding him back at St. Cyprian's. She resorts to the time-honoured strategy of changing her days off. Tane tracks her down to Aunt Thea's - where she is to be found eating an apple again. You really are a girl for apples - are you tempting me?
And now for a double dose of drama. First: She finds out the Tane has assumed the mortgage of Myrtle House - meaning she'll have to pay him! She rips him a new one at the next opportunity. He takes it pretty well. I'm a patient man. Second: A gas main explodes right outside St. Cyprian's and Euphemia is forced to be heroic. The floor is starting to collapse when Tane shows up. Miraculously, his vastness doesn't make it give way. At least, not until the last patient is saved. Euphemia is more than happy to have his help, but she's still mad about the mortgage. It doesn't help that Tane has manuevered her into being offered the most awful temporary nursing job - as Relief Sister. If he'd been around at that moment she would have boxed his ears. It seems all the men in her life are bent on being patronizing...Sir What's-his-name tells her to take a couple of days off. She can go down to Myrtle House and rest. Euphemia is not keen. To say the least. It's not like she had the mumps or something. There's no convincing Sir Wh..... so off she goes to Hampton-cum-Spyway. She gets one good night's rest before Tane shows up. I knew when I first saw you in your old car...and then when you sat on the stairs eating an apple I had a tough time restraining myself from marrying you out of hand. By the way, here's the deed to Myrtle House, I love you, let's kiss. The End.
Rating: Gosh, there's a lot to like here. Some truly delightful scenes. It is hard to get past her name. Eupemia or even the shortened version 'Phemie'. I can't make it sound good. In spite of her less than appealing name, she does have a refreshingly forthright manner. You did say mumps? Tane is just okay for me. He is engaged to the appalling Diana for no apparent reason - and then he asks Euphemia to nurse her? That doesn't bother me too much, as it's a fairly common Neelsism, I just wish we got more of the give and take between Tane of Euphemia, because they are awesome together. The ending was pretty abrupt. Betty Neels did like to wrap things up fairly quickly in her novels - but I felt like the 1 1/2 pages of wrap up that were given here were a bit too short. I think I'll go with a boeuf en croute.
Food: apples (twice), quenelles of crawfish with lobster sauce, spiced chicken with apricots, watercress soup (twice), pasties, fairy cakes, iced melon, chicken Kiev, lemon sorbet, calamares fritos, fresh pineapple, artichaut Clamart, pommes de terre Beray.
Fashion: 'A dress to be reckoned with', Diana wears to worst outfit ever described in print - an orange brocade jumpsuit, he wears a white dinner jacket and looks elegant in summer suiting, long-flowered skirt and embroidered blouse, expensive cotton jersey.


  1. High Forehead: I believe at the turn of the last century, it was a sign of high intelligence. Physiognomy (sp?) of the skull was a huge study by some and revealed character!

    It's hard for me to dislike any BN novels.

    What's a RDDD?

  2. There are really only a couple of the canon that I truly dislike...but there are quite a few that fall into the range of 'fine' and 'okay'. Betty Keira and I will have to arm-wrestle or something to decide who has to do the review of our very least favorite.

    Sorry about the acromnym confusion. RDD = Rich Dutch Doctor.

  3. There are so many elements to AAFE (watch out -- add a consonant to that acronym and it's some RDD's first name!) that are lovely: the apple core, the incredulity over Diana's mumps, the dramatic rescue after the gas main explosion, even the business with the deed to the house. But at the end of the day, it's one of The Great Betty's "I went on holiday, so now I need to write a book" book. Sadly, these are never the best books in The Canon.

    For one thing, the hero and heroine spend too much time apart. I won't bother counting up the pages, but we see almost as much of Diana as we do of Tane, and really Diana is a pill and her mother (whom, thankfully, we see far less of) is way worse.

    Plus, why oh why is it a tenet of the RDD Code O' Ethics that if you're engaged to some drippy, pilly, nasty Veronica, you have to find her an even richer substitute before you can dump her on her bony ass? I don't get that -- it's almost as nonsensical as the Don't Snitch rule.

    Mince pies for me.

  4. i love this story my first name is euphemia

  5. Welcome Betty Phemie! I don't remember if I was on the site in October, but when it comes back around I'll read it in your honor!

  6. I loved this Book- the beginning where she totally hates him and says the MOST outrageous things (and he over hears... i.e. "I hope they choke him", to laughing outright at Diana at their dinner party (thinking about their Icicle Children (ROFLOL))... to his NASTY looks and smiles, to her basically accusing him of medical malpractice by not admitting her father to the hospital, her outright comments about WHY he is marrying Diana and why they haven't married sooner), and why he needs the house and asking if his Secretary was going to live in and then says his finance wouldn't like it... b/c she wouldn't like it if she was going to marry him. Then Tane says "God forbid"! It's hilarious.
    This one had me laughing with the way she thought and some of the Outrageous comments she made to him (most of that was before page 59!) I loved her personality and I didn't mind her name - Old fashioned but at least it really is a name, unLIKE some Betty comes up with - like "Octavia"? Really? I think that One is the most egregious! - I like Octavia too though :) I give this "Lashings of whipped cream"!

    1. Kindred spirit,
      You have put into words the things I love about this book too!!!
      Betty Anonymous

  7. I love the mention of MacDonald's at one point -- an attempt to be modern.

    Euphemia/'Phemie doesn't bother me (nor Octavia, the Romans loved that one). But I read a lot of Agatha Christie and when it comes to names, La Neels and Dame Agatha have a lot of crossover.

    Like Betty Anonymous the First :) I loved the byplay between them (like the crack about him choking on the cakes .. "In which case I would be unable to rent your house."), him fixing her lock after she breaks the nailfile and telling her that she needs a new lock, if not a new car. It was a lot of fun. BTW, it's nice how younger siblings of marriageable age fall in love on (silent) command in these books ...

    Also, there seems to be a line missing in my e-book. They're sparring over Euphemia accompanying Diana and the RDD says that Diana's 28. Euphemia replies that she's 27 ... then asks if he wants more coffee and tells him it's rude to comment on a woman's age. Doesn't quite fit.

  8. The line is also missing in my printed copy (M&B Collectors’ Edition). Does anybetty have a version with the "missing line" not missing?

    Euphemia suppressed a giggle and at the severe glance, said:
    'Sorry, only you make her sound like an infirm old lady.'
    'Diana is twenty-eight and extremely active.'
    'I'm twenty-seven.'
    'More coffee?' She asked sweetly,
    'And don't you know that it's frightfully rude to comment upon a woman's age?'
    'But I am rude. You have never ceased to make me aware of this since we met.'
    'Oh—I didn't mean...well, that's not quite true.'

  9. The wording is the same in my Best of Betty Neels edition.

    Betty AnoninTX

  10. Here's the missing line taken from my Harlequin vintage version:

    "'Diana is twenty-eight and extremely active.'
    'I'm twenty-seven.'
    'I am aware of that.'
    'More coffee?'"

    1. Thank you, Betty JoDee, now the scene makes sense.

    2. Strange that the line was left out in other versions. Hmmm.

      Betty AnoninTX

  11. Hi Betty's! Sorry for going off topic and I guess it's really of no importance, but does Tane have the same last name as Sarre?

    1. Betty MDR, Tane & Sarre do indeed share a surname, the only Dutch heroes to do so. "Diederijk" seems to be a fairly usual first name for Dutch men, but Wikipedia does not show anyone with the last name "van Diederijk." For more on names, sur and otherwise, you can peruse this Betty by the Numbers post.