Thursday, March 3, 2011

At the End of the Day - 1985

Anyone familiar with the work of Betty Neels knows that she had a somewhat limited repertoire of plot lines. Her genius was more about filling in the little details.  At the End of the Day is a variation on a theme. It had some awesome moments and some great lines. Shall we see how we feel about it at the end of the day?

tick...tick ...tick.

Julia Mitchell, a ravishing fiery redhead of Junoesque proportions, has just turned thirty. The big three-oh.  She's nominally engaged to the slippery Nigel Longman.  Nigel is an up and coming doctor, with an up and coming job interview in Bristol. In the meantime, she's Sister for Women's Medical at a hospital in London. Sister Julia has a thorn in her side. Professor van der Wagema (41). Everyone knows they don't like each other.  He runs the gamut from tiresome to icy cold to bitingly sarcastic. I know what you're thinking: He's the hero? Julia doesn't have a good opinion of him, but then again, he barely registers on her radar. She doesn't know a thing about him, and what's more, she doesn't care. 

tick...tick...tick.

There must be some kind of trigger that gets the two antagonists thinking about each other - that trigger never gets revealed - but think about each other they do. Maybe Julia just needs to think about a vertebrate...and surprise, surprise, Professor van der Wagema has a fine backbone. Mighty fine. Even from the back he looked distinguished. Yeah, bum check. Her burgeoning interest in him just so happens to coincide with her dawning realization that the magic has gone out of her relationship with Nigel. Mind you, it's all baby steps at this point. In spite of working with Professor van der Wagema for over three years on the ward, she knows nothing about him. Is he married? Does he have children? Where does he live? None of these questions have ever flitted across her consciousness before. One of the questions is answered quite soon. He has an eleven year old son.  That must mean he's married. 

tick...tick...tick.

Julia  showers a little unused maternal instinct on a stray kitten. Nigel is off in Bristol and doesn't bother to call her with a status update. In order to find out if he got the job, Julia resorts to calling the Invertebrate's mother. Yes, her darling boy got the job. Julia shows way too much forbearance with Nigel. He is thrilled to get the job, but not keen on getting married anytime soon. Maybe next year. Julia is supposed to be satisfied with his less than thorough kissing.

tick...tick...tick.

If you haven't guessed by now, the sound that you're hearing is Julia's biological clock. Nigel figures they can live in the hospital-provided-flat and Julia can continue to work for a year or two (that's after waiting the better part of a year to get married)...Julia is not a nurse for nothing - she knows she doesn't have all that many childbearing years left. She reflects to herself that '30 is such a depressing age.'
 In order to fight off her depression, she decides to take a holiday back at Casa de Mitchell.  She can potter around, do a little horseback riding and think. Think about what? The depressing lack of commitment that she's getting from Nigel. He's proving impossible to pin down and have a serious discussion with. In fact, Julia wonders what exactly they have to talk about - beyond work?

Let's just get off the subject of Nigel, okay? He's really not worth the word count.

Remember when I said that Professor van der Wagema has a son? Young Nicholas is a pretty useful plot device. The Professor hires Mr. Mitchell to tutor the lad in Latin. It's a wonderful excuse for him to meet Julia's family.
Julia's mother is like a marital-status heat seeking missle. In less time than it takes to say 'lobster Newburg' - she manages to winkle out the fact that he has been widowed for eight years. Cha-ching! He's single. And happy to drive Julia back to London at the end of her weekend. For No Reason Whatsoever, Julia tarts herself up for the ride home...even wearing her Gucci shoes! I hope you dressed yourself to kill on my account...says he, and then he kisses her! An engaged woman (yes, she's still engaged)! Their relationship is quickly changing from adversarial to friendly.
Nicholas is more than happy to spend weekends at Casa de Mitchell. Julia goes home for another visit and the two go riding together. Papa van der Wagema rides up on his white charger hired horse and manages to get an invitation for the weekend. It's just a tiny step from spending the night to being on a first name basis. My name is Lauris. And now for some muddling.
Her: Nicholas needs a mother...
Him: He'll have one soon...
Yes, it's that hoary old chestnut: I'm In Love With You and Plan to Marry You, But Until Then You Can Just Assume I'm Engaged to Someone Else. Aargh. This will continue for the next 80 pages. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Lauris is looming larger and larger in her thoughts.  Yes, that's the prelude to a Dawning Realization.
Lauris sees her distraught face in the morning and drags part of the truth from her - 'I can't marry Nigel'. He doesn't get to hear her confess her love for him yet, but you can bet he knows which way the Thames is flowing.  Lauris snatches the opportunity to offer Julia a ride to Bristol - so as to have it out with Nigel. Risky business that. Taking the girl you love to meet her fiancee - there's always the possibility that they'll make up. Nope. After an initial 'You're throwing ME over?', Nigel seems positively relieved to have dodged the matrimonial bullet. Very lowering to a girl, but Lauris is right there to get the post-game wrap-up. He invites himself to dinner at her flat and asks for all the gory details.
Now that Nigel is out of the way, let's start dating! If only it were so easy. Julia is firmly of the opinion that Lauris is engaged. She does go out with him a couple of times, but always under protest 'what will your fiancee think?' Lauris could seal the deal  PDQ if only he'd tell her that he loves her...not a mythical fiancee - but that's not how things roll in Neeldom.  There are formalities. First of all, Julia must have lunch at his house, meet his housekeeper and his dog Digby (whose name always reminds me of an old article about the 'redshirt' characters in Star Trek - the author named the redshirts 'Digby and Johnson'...but I digress). The Sad Tale of Nicky's Mother is told. She left them when Nicholas was little - and went to America only to die of viral pneumonia (as you do...).
Then a little excitement is in order. Julia feels the need to walk home from Lauris' place.
No, that's too far.
Okay, I'll take the bus from the British Museum.
Fine, but I'll walk you there.
It's a darn good thing he does, because they get caught in a demonstration. Lauris pushes Julia up against a wall and shelters her with...um...himself. Excuse me while I grab a fan.  Wow, did it just get a little hot in here? Not only does he protect her with...um...himself, he then proceeds to Kiss Her Fiercely
Christmas is coming and Lauris has invited Julia's two younger brothers to go to Holland for a few days with him and Nicholas.  Would Julia please come too? Julia is only too happy (it will give her a chance to check out the fictional fiancee). But first she has to get a streaming head cold. Lauris comes up to her flatlet and bullies her into getting better. I'll have you up on your feet if it kills me. He makes tea, heats up soup, feeds Wellington (the kitten) and offers to wash her hair. Awww. His motive (besides being in love) has got to be the trip to Holland.
Lauris picks up all three boys, then stops by to get Julia. Night ferry from Harwich, he's got a lovely small castle with pepperpot towers, this is my mother, sleep well...
Julia gets up early in the morning to go exploring and is proposed to for her pains.
Him: You love me now, don't you?
Her:Yes, but what about your finacee?
Him: I never said I had a fiancee...I merely stated my intention of getting married. Nicholas knows I want to marry you, so does my mother, so does your mother.  You're the only one who didn't get it.
Proposal, kissing. The end.

Rating: This one was a mixed bag for me. Julia has dug herself into a very boring rut with Nigel. She's not getting any younger - and she's watching her dreams of a house in the country with 2.5 kids, a donkey, a pony, two dogs, a cat or two and a husband who loves her - slip slide away. Her dissatisfaction with Nigel isn't anything new in a Betty Neels, but it does ring true. She really does like him - but Nigel is unable/unwilling/too thick to see Julia as a  real woman who has needs and a biological clock that is running down. I didn't appreciate how long The Nigel Affair lingered on in the book (she doesn't officially dump him until page 114!!).  If you assume that the antagonistic feelings between Julia and Lauris at the beginning of the book are from suppressed desire, then his iciness and her statement "He's the most unfanciable man I know" (I♥Betty Neels)make more sense.  Betty Neels dealt with a somewhat similar plotline much more deftly in Heidelberg Wedding (published the year before this one). If I had one wish for this book, it would be that we knew more of what Lauris was thinking. Such as, when did he fall in love with her? Before she fell for him, that much is obvious...but when? The best I can give it is a Mince Pie.

Food: A whole meal with capitalization - salad Niçoise, lobster Newburg, soufflé Harliquin. Macaroni cheese, cheese sandwich and lager after the cinema, cress sandwiches, chocolate cake, smoked salmon with brown bread and butter, omelette Diplomate (more capitalization!), peaches poached in champagne,  mince pies, doughnuts, lobster soup, roast duck, syllabub with lashing of cream.
Fashion: The Professor wears slacks and a sport shirt (off duty), Julia wears old slacks and a disreputable sweater, an elderly corduroy skirt with a cotton sweater that had seen better days. She goes riding in slacks with an old out-at-elbows sweater and a bright scarf. When she 'dresses to kill', she wears a knitted jacket and skirt with a tucked silk blouse, all in grey, with her Gucci shoes.

27 comments:

  1. Go figure -- I liked it. A lot, actually. It starts slowly, yes, but there's a drop of *gasp* realism to their situation. Lauris is pretty conscientious about making absolutely sure Julia doesn't still love Neville Longbottom (y'think J.K. Rowling read The Great Betty?). He doesn't kiss her too much -- just when he simply can't resist the urge -- and he's actually very kind.

    My favorite bit is one of his teaching rounds when he's surrounded by adoring med students who love him even though he reams them out. He looks up at Julia and smiles, and she knows in that minute why his students love him. Not Julia's dawning realization o'love as we're used to -- that's another 80 pages down the line -- but it's the point at which I fell for Lauris.

    Nicky is a great kid -- not bratty at all. Martha doesn't poison his mind against Julia. And I liked that Lauris had told everyone, "Look, Julia is the love of my life and I plan to marry her. But she's just come out of a long-standing engagement and I can't move until I'm absolutely sure she's done with Dr. Longbottom and ready for Professor van der Tightbottom..." (Bum check indeed!)

    So solid beouf en croute for me. I'd give it a Queen of Puddings but I agree, I did wish The Great Betty had allowed us to overhear the conversation in which Julia says, "But you were always so austere -- when did you know you loved me?" and he says, "I fell in love with you when you were a student nurse and slept through one of my lectures," or "I fell in love with you the day you galloped up the stairs and I wished so much that you were racing to meet me," or something.

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  2. Excellent review. The "I will be married" plot device is not something one wants to read too often.

    I'd like to point out, and have done so elsewhere, that Nigel is never a hero's name. He's a wimpy secondary character or a slightly weak villain. (I feel the same way about Jeremy, but others strenuously disagree.) Neville, on the other hand (I'm talking to you Betty Magdalen) is a great name and J.K.Rowling should never have landed him with a surname like Longbottom.

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  3. And -- let me guess here -- Neville Chamberlain was a great prime minister? (I'd better watch out; he might have been her great uncle or something and then I'm in such trouble...)

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  4. Betty Barbara here--0
    Aren't Julia and Lauris the oldest couple Betty writes about? I don't think she had a heroine older than this Julia, but I'm not sure about the RDD.

    I found this to be another one of her 'nice by forgetable' books. I enjoyed it while I read it, and your review brought it back to mind--but it won't stick around in my memory as some of the others do.

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  5. It usually takes me three or four times as long to read my assigned book...so instead of cozying up on the couch for a couple of hours, I usually have to spread my reading out over a couple of days...during that time, I kept forgetting which book this one was. I guess that's my biggest gripe.

    I think Julia qualifies as the oldest heroine...Henrietta Brodie from Henrietta's Own Castle was 29 and spinsterish, as was Laura from the infamous The Hasty Marriage.

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  6. I think she's old even by Harlequin standards. [segue] I sometimes wonder if Harlequin didn't wince when it saw her ruthlessly killing off old people and children without a backwards glance when it suited her to move the plot along. And having plain and sometime thin or plump heroines, especially in the 70s and 80s when all the ones I read had gorgeous heroines...[/segue]

    This is one of those books where when I pick it up I find myself going "what's the plot about this one again?"

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  7. I did that, too, kitap. And I've read it before. Maybe unconsciously, I was hoping it had changed. lol

    Betty Debbie, have you seen the older cover? This is even funnier considering this is the Charlie Sheen Cover. It really goes with your loser list above. ;-)
    Oh yum, I get to type Scone for my Verifying Word. Now I'm hungry.

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  8. My choice for Most Unfancy. Gotta say Charlie looks the best, but this proves the saying about looks not being everything.

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  9. If I drank milk it would be shooting out of my nose. I had never seen the Charlie Sheen/J Lo cover...gosh, the resemblence is uncanny...and kind of makes me like the book a little better.

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  10. I think this one takes the cake for worst vintage cover. It's like the illustrator got his notes mixed up with another book. I'm working on a better cover....

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  11. Oh dear. How many want to guess at who Betty JoDee is putting on the cover. Are his initials G.P by any chance? he he he

    One interesting observation. Whoever the illustrator was, he had an awareness of Charlie's proclivity for female abuse. That's a pretty tight clench and she doesn't look too happy. Charlie's philosphy being:When it comes to love if it's not rough, it isn't fun. But even Ga Ga wouldn't put up with his crap.

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  12. Okay, I admit that G.P. was my first thought, but I decided that too easy (although the time spent Photoshopping him would be bliss...) so The Littlest Princess' preschool teachers made suggestions, and The Heir and The Spare got in on the Googling act (the austere part was the tricky part). They suggested trying "unsmiling tall dark handsome actor"--some odd results that sent them into fits of laughter. Then they suggested (I have no idea why) "Italian tall dark etc.). Not quite what I needed but did point me in the right direction. Spirited, take no crap, red-head was obvious.

    Alas, I have hours of Photoshop ahead and leaving on spring break (The Professor's laptop has no Photoshop on it) so I can't promise when I'll have it done but should be worth the wait.

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  13. Reading The Canon, one gets the impression that the men of The Netherlands have a certain look. Well, for my other blogging job, I use Flickr all the time. Here, then, are some Dutchmen:

    Darker than an RDD but not bad.

    This is more likely to be the younger brother. No RDD ever had curly hair.

    Here's someone named Henk -- I'm thinking that's the partner in one of the RDD's practices.

    I don't know what to make of this guy. Maybe he's the "bad" younger brother. (Although from his bio, he sounds like a really nice guy!)

    Of course, my favorite good-looking Dutchman is Hugo van Lawick, formerly married to Jane Goodall. Quite the cutie in the 60s. Here's a photo with him in the middle (other two guys are Spanish). And he was a baron, too -- so you get extra points for being in the Adel!

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    1. Betty – Bettier – the Bettiest
      Hugo van Lawick? Well chosen, Betty Magdalen.
      Extra points for:
      1. being from adel. Hugo Arndt Rodolf Baron van Lawick
      2. having gone to boarding school!! in Devon!!!
      3. 'The boy's Hugo, of course,...' Hugo and Jane had a son Hugo Eric Louis Baron van Lawick, nicknamed "Grub"

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  14. Hey Betty Magdalen, I was trolling for dutchmen, too. I was thinking this guy. He's rarely w/o his beard or heavy whiskers, lots of moles to cover maybe. So that removes him from my ideal RDD list, but others might not mind the look. I've looked at videos of him speaking English and Dutch and man he's very appealing in both languages. But I don't like his characters in most of the stuff I watched. So I'm not really sure if he's leading man material. But he's got killer dimples. And the best reason is his name is
    Yorick van Wageninge If that isn't authentic, then I'm a Dutchman. 8-)

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  15. Alas, poor Yorick (sorry, couldn't resist)...I haven't seen any of his movies except for part of The Chronicles of Riddick(ulous)...which was so badly acted (by the leading man),that I had to turn it off - nothing will induce me to submit to that torture again. Besides that, he is pretty easy on the eyes.

    Hugo van Lawick, excuse me, Baron Hugo van Lawick was a babe...I can certainly overlook the fact that he's a tad short for a RDD.

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  16. I handed you that one, Betty Debbie.
    I decided not to hog all the good jokes! And I really love that Dutchman saying! lol
    Hugo is okay, but the shortness dooms him for us Olivia types.
    I'm loving the first two guys on Betty Magdalen's post. #1 gots the ice blue eyes and dark hair, there was at least one of those. I'll take that outlier any day.
    And hair can be cut, #2 would be one of the younger RDD's. Weren't there a few in there late twenties? Yep, them's keepers. ;-)

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  17. Of course there is the always gorgeous Rutger Hauer! What more of a Dutchman does anyone in the world need???

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  18. Betty Keira, you have superb taste!

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  19. Motion carried...Rutger Hauer it is.

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  20. Saw Rutger Hauer today in a film with Michelle Pfeiffer - made in 1985 so nearly 30 years old . . .

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    1. Betty Barbara here--
      Oh!!! I LOVE LadyHawke!!!! One of my all time faves (in spite of Matthew Broderick, who was soooo anachronistic!!).

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  21. Try this:

    https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=rutger+hauer&client=firefox-a&hs=kPV&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=qAHGUd-VM8Gj0QX9ioCYBQ&ved=0CJQBEIke&biw=1280&bih=887

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    1. Whenever I see or hear the name Rutger Hauer I am reminded of the film which started out with the camera zooming in on him lying on his bed wearing red socks...

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    2. This is how I see him - this is the YouTube description (there are many others):

      Uploaded on 30 Aug 2008

      Guinness Ad from 1990 featuring the actor Rutger Hauer.

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    3. Guinness Ad - Rutger Hauer. Is that it? That's much better. Mind you it was red socks only...

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