...Which is all a shame as they started off so well, the darlings. Rijk met Sophie while her shoe was stuck in a grate. Rather than use it as an opportunity to oogle her legs (which is rather a short-term gain, long-term loss, I'd say), he unties her sensible heeled lace-ups (shudder) and helps her out.
Though he makes no headway on his initial sortie, he reconnoiters at her flatlet shortly thereafter and says in a loud, carrying tone, 'Your good landlady has kindly allowed me to visit...' Every troubled maiden worth her salt is guarded by a beastly dragon and Rijk is quick to note Miss Phipps the Landlady's status as the Gatekeeper...er...Keymaster. Anyway. Over the course of the next weeks, Rijk is here, there and everywhere like that foam insulation that expands into every nook and cranny. Message? Sophie's heating bills this winter will be low, low, low.
But, as much as the professor loves his Sophie (Oh yes, he is one smitten-kitten.), he is less enamored of her living situation. Miss Phipps's slipping wig and ready tongue, Sophie's dire flatlet, the fact that Rijk has to do his wooing while on flying visits from Holland, night duty, Sophie's strange reluctance to commit romantically to the only disease-free millionaire to come calling, and that awful, poky side-street all combine to bring things to a brisk boil.
Which leads him to say gently on a brief overlook of Epping Forest, 'May I take it that we are now good, firm friends, Sophie?...Then perhaps you know what I am going to say next. Will you marry me, Sophie?'
Her response is disappointingly gobsmacked and they have a short little chat about how her heart was broken most vilely during her mis-spent youth and how she vowed never, ever to let herself be vulnerable again.
Editorial Note: I lose patience with Sophie at this point. Though hitherto adorable (if unwilling to play ball), she's decided to blight her life over a man whose face she can't even remember?! She's decided to skip the whole marriage and kids thing over that?! I felt more sympathy for Tishy (A Small Slice of Summer) who at least had been broken-hearted within recent memory instead of Sophie's cock-and-bull reasons to cloister herself away from life--a decision arrived at over the course of eight loooong years. Gah!
He agrees to wait for her answer and here Betty loses me a bit. Maybe I was muddled myself, but there are several points at which she tells him that she agrees to marry him. But they go back to, 'Is this your final answer?' She tells him 'yes' on page 83. (Before they go to Holland.) Reiterates it to Miss Phipps on page 89. Mentally waffles on Holland (wherein the reader says, 'What?!') and tries to tell him again on 119. She finally convinces him she means to marry him on page 137.
You'll notice I skipped Holland. The trip isn't that lengthy or that exciting and I kept getting distracted by the fact that she's spending her time deciding to marry him after she already said she would....Also, I really missed Miss Phipps and her sickening twitters.
The marriage of convenience is all very well--it's certainly a pick-up after that so-so first Holland trip. Sophie finds his servants endearing, his home lovely, her in-laws accommodating...But every Eden has a snake in the grass and Sophie's appears to be Irena van Moren. She's one of those icy blonds who never have a hair out of place and has a vague, if disturbingly secretive, relationship with our hero.
Naturally there's a fight. Sophie upbraids Rijk for stepping out with a woman she can't even loathe properly. ('If she hadn't hated her so thoroughly, she would have liked her.') Rijk ices up and Irena catches Sophie in the aftermath and sorts her out nicely. 'My husband--you knew? You said you did. He had a brain tumor and Rijk saved his life, but we told no one because Jerre is the director of a big business concern and if it were known that he was so very ill it would have caused much panic and shareholders would have lost money...' At last! A reason for secrecy and stealth that entirely exonerates everyone in a believable fashion! I could kiss Irena. And then Irena really does Sophie a solid by dragging her off to meet Rijk and make it up.
|Jerre is the Steve Jobs of Holland|
Rating: Parts of this one are very good. Rijk is adorable and persistent and totally disgusted with Sophie's living set-up. Miss Phipps is probably the all-time Betty Neels champion for objectionable (yet awesome) landladies...
But the problem areas are nothing to sneeze at. This is not one of The Great Betty's most consistent reads--I think Sophie has to tell Rijk that she'll marry him, like, three times and I kept thinking, 'I thought you'd settled that already.' Also, though I know that Love's Young Dream Blighted is a common plot device to explain the unmarried state of hot, hot Dutch millionaire surgeons in La Neels' other books, when applied to Sophie* and explained out (the over-explaining murdered my sympathy for her rather than rousing it), I just wanted to slap her around. Nobody (maybe by 'nobody' I really mean 'no gorgeous and oft-chatted-up nurse') ruins their life because they were thwarted in love at nineteen by some rotter unless one's sense of priorities or proportion are out of whack. Look Sophie, chalk that one up to experience and move along. The girl does redeem herself by allowing Irena to rush her off to apologize to Rijk at the end and I generally liked her otherwise but her youthful and sustained silliness was a mighty big pill to swallow.
So, the beginning is just great (maybe Queen of Puddings great) but the middle sort of muddles around and we only get a little lift in the end so the rest is just Treacle Tart for me.
*I read this in the midst of a three-week-long barf fest at Casa van Voorhees so my grumpiness at life might have spilled over at Sophie...
Food: Milk pudding (which the idea of offends my sense of texture probably), cornflakes, grilled Dover sole, sherry trifle, hot sausage rolls, mince pies, roast duck and orange sauce, mushrooms in garlic, lemon syllabub, smoked eel on toast, tiny quiche, cheese puffs, baby sausage rolls, creamed chicken soup and potatoes 'whipped to incredible lightness'.
|...but in velvet.|