Monday, March 7, 2011

A Matter of Chance--1977

I do not like you Doctor Fell, the reason why I cannot tell...  A Matter of Chance has such an engaging cover and I did so want to love it!

Cressida Bingley, 26, is to be pitied.  If I've done the math correctly, it can't have been much more than six weeks since her father and mother were both carried away by the flu and she's lost and alone on the back streets of Amsterdam in the dwindling evening light.
When a voice speaks behind her it really is the last straw.  'I can't understand you, so do go away!'  All she wants is to be left alone, to nurse her wounds in a safely out of the way place, to begin her job as typist to an elderly Dutch doctor on the following day and 'to drive and drive and drive, away from her grief and loneliness'.  So, no.  Girlfriend doesn't want a pick-up.
That's okay.  Giles van der Teile isn't interested in that either.  Raised as he was, by members of the Dutch Resistance, he probably has helping-British-people-find-their-way-in-Holland encoded on his DNA.  They march to her modest hotel and part ways; she in antipathy, he in the first throes of love-at-first-sight.
On the next day she sets out for her new job and meets the kindly (if scatty) Doctors van Blom and Herrima.  They also have another partner.  (Who could it be?!)
Giles calls their reintroduction 'inevitable' and quickly assures her that he has 'found the girl for myself and intend to marry her.'  Such a fast worker, that Giles.  All that's left is to book the banquet hall and call the preacher, no?  No.  While Giles is amusing himself with sly allusions to his eventual wedding, Cressida mentally stamps his manila folder and files that away for future reference. 
By and by, Giles introduces Monique de Vries into the tangled web of intrigue.  She is nothing more than a Babe (if aging one) and the widow of Giles' best friend.Naturally, Cressida thinks she is the next Mrs. RDD.
We also have the pleasure (for me a qualified one as I suggest The Great Betty was easing her guilty conscience by reassuring us of their HEA) of meeting Harriet and Friso Eijsinck.
As her nurse-ly fingers are tapping away at that manuscript, Cressida begins to notice the curiosity of the practice's set-up.  The 'junior elderlies are doing all the work--exhausting themselves in the process while the easy-living  Giles escorts his girlfriend here and there.   Cresssy's brave enough to take her concerns to Giles and get the snubbing of her young life.
And then the flu hits.  (What a lost opportunity.  Everyone is succumbing like ninepins and Cressida suffers nary a pang that this is the enemy that carried off her beloved parents.)
The elderlies get it and then the housekeeper and finally Cressy falls.  She feels wretched (and he's really very lovely while she's out to it) but congratulates Giles on buckling down and finally doing some work!
And that would be fine if that's all there was but she actually calls him selfish for what she assumes to be a date with Monique in the midst of the crisis.  Jealousy, mis-communication, pride, name-calling.  Shrug.  The washing machine is on the spin cycle.
But Cressy has her Dawning Realization anyway.  (And probably hates herself a little for loving a man who forgets his duties so far as to need reminding of them.)
Why don't you run along and take Cressy to the clinic, son?
It is only when Giles takes Cressy (rhymes with Nessy) to visit his mother that the gyroscope stops spinning.
Future MIL: Hi, Cressy.  I wanted to meet you.
Cressy: I won't spend a minute wondering why...
MIL: My son is an idiot.
Cressy:What a lovely woman you are.
MIL: Look, he's not going to tell you that he's only in with the elderlies as a silent partner because they helped my husband during the war.  And he's not going to tell you about his free slum clinic that he runs that takes all of his time.  And I'm sure he's not going to explain about Monique.
Cressy: About that...
This is going to be a fun mother-in-law.  Between them they ride roughshod over the hapless male (in one of the darlingest scenes) and get him to invite her over to the clinic and out to dinner.  But they never do make it to dinner because, somehow, they always fall out before she gets anything to eat--which is why they have to take their rare dinners together in front of muscled referees.  
After one such meal with Harriet and Friso, they come across a swerving car that lands toot sweet into a deep canal. 

Lives are saved and lost.  Clothes are ruined and it's all worth it (yes, even the death) for the look of outraged horror on Giles face when he realizes that Cressy has been bobbing along gamely in the canal without a working  knowledge of the Australian Crawl.  But, as with Cressy's dear departed (her parents, remember?), the wreckage isn't allowed to clutter up the grassy verge of her mental landscape for long.  She recovers from the ordeal at Giles' home and then installs herself back with the elderlies as soon as may be.
Which works out fine for Giles as I suppose he didn't like to propose to a woman recuperating under his own roof.  That's right.  Propose. 
He does so on the very day that Monique de Vries gets hitched and Cressy is in no mood to accept.
The balance of the rest of the book is:
Cressy wings off to do the heavy lifting...
  • Giles' teasing/pushing/nudging Cressida to make a decision.
  • Cressy refusing to marry a man who doesn't love her back. (She's not cut out for the half-loaf life.)
  • 'I love you, Giles, but you don't love me.  That's why I'm going.' (Followed by a hospital emergency that takes him away.) 
  • Her return to England, followed a week later by Giles--which is when things ought to have been sorted but aren't and he leaves in a huff.  (And I really can't stand them at this point.  They have the stupidest fights ever with very little sympathy for the other.)
  • Her flight to Holland to run him to ground.  'I had to...tell you I was sorry.  I love you, I told you that,...but-- well, it's made my love seem a very poor thing, hasn't it--not worth bothering about.'
He is finally ready to manfully make some declarations and they have at least the same chance that Harriet and Friso had to make a go of it.
The End

Rating: Boy, I hate doing it, but this was Ho-hum and the Cheese Board for me.  Here's what I liked:
  • Cressida is the kind of woman you'd want hauling buckets of hot shot to the guns during a siege war.  She's capable of the 'militant eye' and will not be pushed around.  When Giles is cold or snubbing or glacially angry, she raises an eyebrow and puts him in his place as though he is barely out of short pants and being impertinent.  
  • I adore that she is not above using the presence of his mother to get him to do what she wants.  She is a very clever girl.
  • Giles is not the horror that was Friso Eijsinck (but then, he doesn't have an AC 428 Fastback, so perhaps he felt he had no right to be.) 
And here's what I didn't care for:
  • There were some continuity issues in this one.  At the end, he tells her that she never revealed her belief to him that he was into Monique but she covered that point during the first proposal.  (She all but screamed her anxiety like a fishwife.)
  • I don't know why The Great Betty had to give Cressida such a poignant back-story (Dead parents within the last two months?!  That's heavy.).  It never really gets used (and hardly ever mentioned after the initial exposition) and feels like way too much just to get her to Holland.  Giles spends a paragraph telling her The Heart Must Go On, but even so, when she's so mopey about him in the end I want to yell, 'Remember those parents of yours?  The dead ones?!'
  • Yes, Cressida made a mistake about how much Giles worked but he carried his resentment unnecessarily far, giving her no chance to draw the right conclusions.  And then, when he is vindicated, she doesn't really apologize!  Dirty pool.
  • I never really feel like the momentum gets going.  There are a lot of great elements (Dutch Occupation stories and worldwide flu pandemics are not to be sneezed at.) but they're not strung together to make a pleasing whole...much like the annual Oscar telecast.
So there you go.  Cheese Board.
P.S. When this plot enjoyed its first go-round on the karmic wheel as Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland, I gave it a slightly higher Mince Pies and I'm afraid it's been too long to remember if I actually like that one better.  I remember the hero as way more jerky but the angst-y-ness surrounding his inability to recognize Harry's vulnerability, shyness and seriousness made it a little more complex.  Cressida is not so crushable as Harry and Giles is not so mean as Friso--and that's the best I remember.

Food: Onion soup, chicken a'la King, trifle, erwten soup, toast and Dundee marmalade, grapes, thin bread and butter. When he refuses to feed her, she is forced to sneak downstairs for a mug of milk and massive slice of bread and gets kissed for her pains.  In a mildly paternalistic action, he implies that her girly taste-buds will be grossed-out by his  'underdone steak' and instead suggests she have Truite Saumonee' au Champagne and chocolate souffle. (Which I don't get at all, really, as my Mijnheer wants his steak to resemble jerky and I prefer that the cow suffer mild blunt-force trauma and be slapped on the plate.)  We also get vol-au-vents stuffed with prawns, iced melon and lobster Thermidor.

Fashion: Girlfriend gets a LOT of use out of tweed skirts and a ubiquitous fur hat (that manages to survive a dunking in an oily canal more or less intact).  Giles wears a car coat.  Cressida also dons a dark green woolen dress, a tweed skirt and angora jumper and she borrows an exquisite nightdress in blue with handmade lace (and he never does tell her that it belongs to his sister or unexpectedly fashionable (if elderly) housekeeper). Giles' mother (recovering from her bout of flu) wears a 'voluminous, long-sleeved, high-necked nightgown of finest silk.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    I was liking the book okay until the final argument when she's back in England. What??!?! and that was when I totally lost any sympathy for either of them.
    I did not understand why Cressy had her DR when she did--Giles had been perfectly horrid . We don't get to see his good works until later.
    I loved the two older doctors--they were the best part of the book. Second best was Giles' mother.

    Note to Betty Keira: there's something missing in this sentence:He does so on the very day that Monique de VriesCressy is in no mood to accept.

  2. I fixed it 20 minutes ago. We write these things kind of wonky--we'll be going along just fine and then the kids will come home with homework questions...Consider them cricket and the review 'a burning dinner'. ;0)

  3. Betty Barbara here--
    Thanks, Betty Keira. I knew what it was supposed to say, but someone else might not have.
    (I had to cut short my previous thoughts to go to the doctor's--where I was kept waiting an hour. Sigh. I love this doc because he takes time to actually listen to you--but when you can't get the first appointment of the day, you end up waiting. Alas, his office staff does not pass around cups of tea and make soothing comments. Guess we are not in Neelsland!!)
    I never quite knew why Giles tried so hard to keep Cressy in the dark re: his role with the older doctors. He could have explained it clearly, the first time she confronts him, without tooting his own horn. But he goes out of his way to foster her poor opinion of him. Strange way to run a courtship!
    And, as often happens with a Betty hero who announces that he's getting married (without naming the bride to be), he can't understand why she's not falling into his arms! Idiot!!

  4. I've finished reading next week's book (Off With the Old Love--which I really liked) and one of the glaring differences is that, though the hero also does the 'I have a girl and I want to marry her and it's you but I won't tell you that part' thing, he actually has a pretty good reason for both telling her and keeping her name a secret. Unlike this one...

  5. We had an eventful weekend, so I didn't get this started until today. And I've decided after page 3, and reading your review Keira, I'm not giving this one a second read. Not that I remember much of the first time. ;-) This gives me a chance to read a new to me G.L.Hill (Hope this isn't one of the preachy ones. hee hee) before I start A.S.Match.

  6. Concur with Betty Barbara, the best thing about this book was the two bumbling doctors for whom she worked. I loved that weird schedule they had set up to sleep, do clinic, do house calls, sleep, eat, etc. It was all very fraught...I guess unlike the rest, I kinda liked this one.

  7. I didn't get this finished until late last night, and I thought I would -- in the interests of science -- post my comments and rating before I read the review and without having seen what other people have said.

    Other than recognizing "Cressida" and "Cressy" as quintessential Betty names, I couldn't have told you a thing about this book. Even the plot: Heroine goes to Holland to work for Waldorf and Statler who just happen to have a much younger, much richer "senior partner" whom she loves wouldn't have rung any bells.

    But I really liked it. It had some wonderful moments of real poignancy for both Cressida and Giles. Yes, the misunderstanding is stupid, but Giles is the kind of RDD who makes mistakes, clams up, gets cross, and is simultaneously certain that Cressy is the one for him and more than a little nervous about exposing his true feelings. She's not a lot better; her feelings can turn on a dime ("I don't want to go to dinner with you." "Okay, I will go to dinner with you." "Not if you're going to snap at me." "I never want to see you again." "Gosh I'm hungry.") but her love for him is quite believable.

    And everyone (intentionally or inadvertently) contributes to the hoary notion that he's in love with Monique. His mother definitely doesn't help -- she's clear that she wants them to be together, but some of the stuff she says to Cressy isn't parting the waters much.

    So Queen of Puddings -- the only thing that prevents it from going in my top 10 is the rather muddled ending. The Great Betty has done better endings, and I wish she'd rethought this one.

    Now, let's go see what everyone else thought. (At least this way, you'll know I'm not pegging my opinions to be the opposite of everyone else's...)

  8. Yup, I picked a good day for my scientific experiment, didn't I?

    On my honor as an officer of the court, I didn't know what the review or comment thread said about this book, and I stand by my review.

  9. Oh good. I stand by mine. ;0)

  10. Well, of course you do, Betty Keira -- I never think my comments are persuasive. ☺

    I just want to defend myself against the rather damning evidence that I would shape my reviews simply to be uh, disagreeable.

  11. This was lovely! Thanks so much, Betty Magdalen for reviewing without peeking! I think getting opinions from both sides of the aisle is fabulous. I do want to read it now. Wasn't sure from Betty Kiera's review! But I had my doubts, Betty Kiera... you see, I LIKED Tempestuous April. :-)
    Thanks for a great lunchtime laugh. Back to the trenches now.

  12. I keep coming across books I haven't read yet. I have mixed emotions about this -- I didn't dislike Giles as much as some of you, but dead parents or not, I wanted to sit Cressy down more than once and give girlfriend a good talking to. I kept thinking of all the "plain" BOC (Brides of Convenience) who were in love with their HOCs and vowed to make him love them even though there was a previous somebody-or-other who appeared to have their hooks in the HOC.

    From my standpoint, Giles was classic "guy" (or make that A Guy) -- convinced that the Woman He Loved could read his mind and Understood Everything. He wore himself to a pulp during the flu pandemic even though his mother was ill. That's the part where I began to really like him.

    Ah, well. Maybe not Queen of Puddings, but much better than Cheese Board.