Monday, February 21, 2011

The Awakened Heart--1993

 When Betty Debbie ran the Upcoming Reviews feature last week, Betty Barbara commented: "According to my spreadsheet, I have actually read The Awakened heart. Could've fooled me!!"  What ills does this portend...?

Here's what you need to know about our heroine.  When Sophie Blount (27) brings home Rijk van Taak and her mother sees them together, the wise woman thinks to herself, 'A good thing Rijk loved Sophie so much that he was willing to put up with her ideas...'  Sophie practically makes a cottage industry out of peddling a lot of old trot.
...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  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.
Sophie seems to have no dawning realizations hovering on her horizon but in the lead-up to the wedding she is disturbed by Rijk's seeming inattention and absence.  And then one morning she awakes to an earthquake. (Not a real one.  Don't be silly, Bettys, real earthquakes only happen in Greece!)  She's in love with Rijk and he doesn't seem to love her back.
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
And they do.
The End

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.
Fashion: A notorious heeled lace-up, a quilted rose pink dressing gown, a dark red checked skirt and jacket, a tweed skirt and needlecord jacket, a gorgeous midnight blue velvet dress with a low neck, a short dress in a rich mulberry silk, a dark green cowl-neck dress with a pleated skirt.  She briefly regrets that her wedding won't allow for a white satin wedding dress and wears instead, a winter-white dress and coat along with a hat (a velvet trifle decked with pink-tipped feathers), and a long dress of almond-pink chiffon (which would look beastly on me, I just sure of it).  And to contrast the heroine and the female burr under her bustle, Irena wears a scarlet anorak and stretch leggings when she glides effortlessly across the lake and Sophie skids around wearing corduroy slacks and a thick sweater.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    I re-read this over the weekend and have to say that you really captured my feelings about it.
    Quite frankly, it is all downhill from the 'meet cute' with the trapped shoe.
    Sophie really annoyed me. Here's one of Betty's beauties, avoiding going to the dentist, because the last time she went, it hurt--that is how her 'never gonna fall in love again' came across to me. Grow up already!
    And once she does fall in love, it seems to have sapped all her brain cells. She certainly loses her ability to ask questions! Hey Rijk, who was that lady? Hey Rijk, we got this invite from Irena, what 'old times sake'? Hey Rijk, this spiteful cat named Elizabeth came to lunch. I lied and told her I knew all about you and Irena--So what should I know?? But no, fellow Bettys, Sophie keeps her lips zipped and her imagination in hyper-drive.
    I really kinda liked Irena, like you did, for forcing Sophie to apologize to Rijk. And I loved the way Rijk just bulldozed his way into her life.

    I may remember this book in a couple of months, but I doubt it. I remember the ones that make me cry or make me mad or make me feel warm & fuzzy. Sorry Awakened Heart, three strikes, you're out!

  2. I liked it better than you guys did. Rijk sets up the problem even as he's scraped together a solution. He wants to marry her because he senses he won't have the time and opportunity to woo her properly, but then he doesn't woo her at all, even as they're de facto engaged.

    I don't think Sophie is battle-scarred the way Tishy was; it's rather that she remembers being dumped for -- let's be honest here -- a Veronica. Marrying a man who doesn't at least profess his affection for you is rather a recipe for having to revisit that particular horror.

    Plus, it's all hustle & bustle & on the go, so Rijk's just as guilty of not stopping long enough to get a definitive answer.

    My unanswered question: Does Mabel the cat get to live in Holland?

  3. I liked Rijk from beginning to end and thought his motives entirely plausible but I didn't think much of Sophie that she allowed herself to be so pushed around by a memory. And let's not pretend that Lost-to-the-mists-what's-his-name was the love of her life. Essentially, she grieved so deeply because she was so young and I'd like to think that Sophie might spend some time working that out for herself. (But she doesn't.)

    Also, I know it looks critical that I give a bunch of similarly afflicted RDDs a pass on this but they were often married and we are also happily less privy to their stupid thoughts.

  4. Do you feel a little cheated at the wedding? She tells us later that she'll remember every word, but we don't get Word One.
    And the church is full, but only 14 people are invited to a wedding breakfast. This guys got tons of moula, and she doesn't even get to dance at her wedding?
    I don't fault Rijk, seeing as Betty was the wedding planner. But, Really?
    And then the family gets to have a nice dinner out and the two of them are eating alone before they take off for Holland? It's not like they need to be alone or anything. This just doesn't make much sense to me.

  5. 'If she hadn't hated her so thoroughly, she would have liked her.'
    Here's the perfect song for Sophie's feelings about Irena.
    And this clip is pretty entertaining on it's own! Somebody did a great editing job.

  6. They never seem to have big receptions in Neelsworld. The village may show up to the ceremony (with the necessary free booze at the pub later courteousy of RDD) but they never seem to have more than a few people at the reception. And, the faithful retainers usually make up half of that crowd (other half is BFF of RDD and his lovely "I was his theatre sisiter" wife, who our heroine only just met at the wedding). Maybe that was the way it was done in Betty's day? I'm pretty sure they must have pricey receptions in Britain now - there's no way they could have escaped the wedding industry.

    1. There's a reception AT THE RITZ in The Convenient Wife!

    2. Two sizable receptions:
      Midnight Sun’s Magic
      I'll see to the reception and all that if you like to invite anyone you want—they can come over to Goes by plane.' It was exciting and her eyes sparkled. It would be lovely to have a proper wedding. Then her face dropped. 'Only I haven't any family, only Great-Aunt Mary and Freddy—I've lots of friends, though.' 'Then invite them all, let me know how many there will be and I'll arrange for a plane to bring them over.' 'But that'll cost the earth—I couldn't let you.
      ...' He smiled at her lazily. 'My dear girl, I only intend to marry once in my lifetime and I'd like to remember it as a special occasion—think of all the money I haven't spent while we've been at Spitzbergen. How many friends have you? Fifty? A hundred?' 'Good heavens, no!' She counted on her fingers, muttering as she did so. 'I'm not quite certain, but I can think of twenty-odd people.'

      An Innocent Bride
      She had sat down and written a letter straight away, while the Glenville family made a list of guests. It was a formidable list. 'But I haven't any family,' Katrina had said. 'The Peterses, Mrs Ward, Lady Truscott—half the village,' Simon had reminded her.

      'Everyone has been so kind. Dr Peters wants to give me away, I've booked rooms for your family at the Dog and Thistle—it's quite comfortable and very clean. I hope it will do—and Lady Truscott wants us to have the reception at the Manor. It's her wedding present to us. Only I said I must ask you first. The whole village has been invited. 'So we had better accept, hadn't we?'

  7. Betty Mary...thank you for the clip. Pretty dang hilarious.

  8. Betty Mary -- I think you're imagining a more American style wedding. British weddings are getting to be more like ours: in the afternoon or evening with dinner and a late-night party. But traditionally -- and by law, as Betty Henry pointed out -- weddings in the UK were in the late morning and followed by a luncheon called a "wedding breakfast."

  9. Now, now, Betty Caitlin, there are large receptions...just never thrown by the protagonists. Usually our heroine is invited and squished up against a wall with something to nibble on when the hero walks in with a gorgeous redhead... Now which one is that? (scratches head)

    And I too loved that clip, Betty Mary.

  10. Betty Brigid was married very close to the UK. Cavan is a skip from Ulster, she's actually on the Ulster Rugby team. I say that to mean that her wedding (2 years ago) was very nearly British and it was a quite a TaDoo.
    Don't get me wrong, I wish we could have gotten away with 50 people at a fancy breakfast. Neither his folks or ours are well off, but it seemed the norm to have saved a bunch of money to have a proper wedding. The groom requested that the wedding be in Ireland as he thought American weddings were less formal. I love my son-in-law but them's were almost fightin' words! He's only been to two weddings here, my nephews in Texas (reception at a BBQ joint) and my son's, who did his on a (very nice) shoe string. But we acquiesced seeing as he had done the saving!
    There were more people at the reception than the church, and she made sure the place would be open with refreshments between the wedding and reception. Just saying....

  11. Wasn't that cute Betty Dears! Gotta say about the video, It gets better with watching. Whoever made it put in so much hidden meanings. Did you notice they show Sebastion the crab after Belle reading, and then the lady trying on the wigs who goes bald with the lyrics "Inside her head may lay all the answers
    For curin' diseases from baldness to cancer"
    And my favorite is at the end when Esmeralda almost perfectly lip sincs "Well, it was just one tooth." sooo funny!

  12. Oh, yes, Betty Keira. There was that reception that our heroine went to with RDD so that she could show the ex-"I threw you over for money" that she was doing OK. Which one was that? I remember she ended up working at a girl's school thanks to RDD. The titles are not my forte. That seemed like a big British reception - lots of talk of hats.

  13. I think you're thinking of A Christmas Wish, in which Olivia goes with Haso to the wedding of Rodney the Rat...

  14. And Olivia has that Killer Hat made with an old straw hat a bit of ribbon, right? Style.



  15. My favorite line from the video is "she made such a thin little target"--no doubt with salt cellars.

  16. I took me a minute Betty Jo Dee, but ha ha ha ha!
    Salt Cellars, yep! But who knows for sure as we didn't get much details about Irena. Well, she wasn't really a Veronica, after all.

  17. I agree - I had never read this one before and - goodness - this will be one I won't read again - I even put a sticky on it as a DO NOT re-read! Rijk is great but WAY too good for her - I did like Sophie's mother and that they both have nice parents and siblings (sooo un-Betty).... Sophie once she is in love with the guy - you'd think she'd try to attract him or give him a hint or even try to figure out -Why did he marry me?... but NO she really doesn't do anything but walk Matt the Dog. - And Rijk didn't seem all that upset about her almost freezing and drowning in the lake... (Of course I'm a total FREAK about thin ice... so maybe it's me).... -but really they didn't make any "ado" about that whole scene - AND that situation is more likely then one of Betty's "bombs" LOL - Ok that's my two cents (rant Actually :) )

  18. Betty's heroines aren't as bad (usually) as some of those I've found in other romances -- sometimes I just want to smack 'em (how un-PC of me!) Unfortunately, I agree that Sophie falls into this later category and it's a shame, because Rijk is a doll.

    BTW - I think, if you mean _midnight_ blue, it'd be more something like this dress of Princess Diana's:

  19. Perhaps Sophie got so lost with nothing ever actually happening that she in her turn lost track of what actually HAD happened?

  20. "And then one morning she awakes to an earthquake. (Not a real one. Don't be silly, Bettys, real earthquakes only happen in Greece!"
    Ha ha. Don’t be silly, Betty K., real earthquakes happen in Holland (At Odds with Love, 1993), for example in Roermond, 1992 in the Netherlands and in England, too.

  21. Looks like I'm in the minority for this one. I quite liked it mostly because of the wonderful Rijk who is one of the most straightforward Neels heroes I've read so far, despite his resorting to the MOC strategy, because he is so enthusiastic in his pursuit of Sophie plus he does not try to mislead the heroine that he has a fiancée (which is what happens in so many of the other books and which always annoys me when it happens as I can't see the point of it. I mean, hinting to the girl that you are interested in that you already have a fiancee or girlfriend will surely make her keep a distance from you if she is a decent type of person even if she is interested in you, so isn't it self-sabotaging?). Sophie's weakness about her teenage romance failure was not a big enough peeve point to offset Rijk's wonderfulness for me. Can someone recommend any other of the a great Betty's books where the hero is a straightforward guy like Rijk?