Monday, March 14, 2011

Off With the Old Love--1987

This is the rabbit-fur jacket book.  That's how I remember it...

Radmer van Teule, 35, can't as much as order roast beef sandwiches or boost a co-worker onto a step or offer his surgical notes to his theatre sister Rachel Downing, 25, without every gesture bespeaking an endearment.
'That (chair) will give way one day...Won't you sit on mine, sir?' 
Something was obscuring her vision...
'Only when you're not here, Rachel.'
And it's as though he's found one of Shakespeare's lost love sonnets. (Shall I compare thee to my special forceps?  Thou art more useful and more shiny...)  But she can't hear that.  He's just an enormously respected surgeon about whose home life she has not a speck of interest.
The mote (cough*beam*cough) in her eye, blocking her view of all that solid, good-humored worthiness is Melville the Slim-Hipped Man-Child Hipster.  And what a piece of work he is. 
Melville is a television producer which is enough to excuse enormous reservoirs of bad behavior.
Melville Grant knew he was the bee's knees...
  • He's critical of her clothing?  He's a TV producer!
  • Doesn't like the country?  How could he?  He's a TV producer!
  • Breaks dates? TV producer...
  • Dismisses her profession?  See above.
Sure, she hates his friends and the bad food and gasoline flavored drinks and extravagant lifestyle and how he's always darting off in the middle of dates to network with fast TV types (Just think how wonderful this book would have been had cell phones been at all common in 1987!  He'd be that loud blue-tooth wearer, smugly sure that everyone is listening in to his conversation because it's that awesome.) but what's a girl to do?
Editorial Note:  Yes, Rachel is stupid to love him but in a way that makes me want to take a slow drag from a French cigarette, execute a Gallic shrug and mutter 'C'est l'amour' into my steak tartar.
For his part, the Professor looks on at her romantic drama with despair...and then he hatches a plan.  I imagine him spending the first year he loved her telling himself that he was too old for her.  And then when she meets Melville, he plunges further into hopelessness.  (Because she's happy, right?)  But now he can see that she isn't happy and she's likely to make a dreadful mistake and even if he is too old, he's surely better than Melville!
And that's when he assigns himself as her personal agony aunt.  His plan is simple really.
  • Listen to her troubles.  Assure her that his motives are altruistic as he has a girl waiting in the wings to marry.  
  • Seem to gather all your advice from the wildly improbable if strangely popular book The Rules (There are 35 'rules' and these are the ones he passes on: "Be a creature unlike any other", "Always end call and dates first" and "Don’t See Him More than Once or Twice a Week").  No, he doesn't actually have a pocket edition in his suit at all times but it feels like he does. (It was published in 1995 and the estate of La Neels should consider pursuing litigation against the authors.)
  • Spread a large trapeze-grade net under her in the more-than-likely event that Melville will fail to pick up what she is putting down.
And things do appear to get better between her and the Man-Child for a time.  He is more-or-less attentive and very near courteous but they always seem to be on the outs anyway.  Perhaps it's because he's snogging a blonde American "actress"!  (Yes. He. Is.) Radmer wishes she could think it all out calmly and dispassionately somewhere miles away and then has a stroke of genius.  He'll send her to an International Convention for Theatre Sisters (but secretly, because girlfriend would probably refuse to go if she thought she was that much trouble to him).
He's one of the presenters so they get to hang out a little and she has the dawning realization that he is H.O.T. (alas, nothing more) but on the last day, when Radmer is practically stalking her behind the potted palms, he is just too late to prevent her from seeing Melville arrive with that bosom-y blonde starlet tartlet who wants the room key from him because she wants to take a shower! (The Venerable Neels writes this so as to leave no other construction on it than that this European hotel is also doubling as Brighton.  She also points neon lights at them.)
Tears and ugliness are postponed until Radmer gets her back up to her room--but ugliness there is.
To prevent a full-on theater melt-down, he sells a pack of lies to her nursing superior and whisks her off to his parent's Friesian estate.  He's understanding ('We've all been fools in our time...') and his patience with her makes me want to do him a favor and be patient with her myself.
No one ever expects the 2x4 of Dawning Realization...
But reality beckons and duties must be shouldered again.  Rachel returns to her home and that awful nursing rut when she is suddenly and gloriously pole-axed by the Blinding Two-By-Four of Dawning Realization between the eyes.  Radmer, his perceptions trained to be ultra-sensitive to the slightest tremor of Rachel's emotional life, understands at once.
He calls her to a committee room.
Lots and lots of kissing and a firm date to be married five days hence.
The End 

Rating: Boeuf en croute.  I really like the set-up (that rabbit-fur coat is unforgettable) and it's not hard to believe that Radmer would happily walk across a lake of molten fire to fetch a left-behind lipstick for Rachel.  (Think Rachel and Jacob-I-worked-seven-years-to-marry-you kind of love.)
Melville is a peach...the kind rotting in the compost pile--and it's so much fun hating him, contrasting his meaningless 'darling's and brow-puckered sartorial criticisms to Radmer--the kind of man whose every action says I will love you til I die.
Swing Dance Guy makes another conquest.
So,why does she love that fink?  I'll illustrate with a metaphor.  Melville reminds me of Swing Dance Guy.  (Not all Swing dancers are Swing Dance Guys) You know him, right?  That guy was at every dance I've ever been to.  (His face changes but his identity remains the same.)  At first, you're pleased and surprised that Swing Dance Guy plucked you out of obscurity to practice his dynamic and intriguing moves on--that his gyrations are for you and you alone.    And then it slowly dawns on you that Swing Dance Guy needs a partner (or else he's no better than Dancing With Herself Girl) and that all you are is a skirt and a pair of heels.  Also, it dawns on you that Swing Dance Guy is convinced he's the special-est snow flake ever and that he's a bit smug about not being one of those 'regular' dance people.   That's when you leave Swing Dance Guy to the tender mercies of some other starry-eyed young flower of maidenhood and trot off to find someone to disclose your inner-most secrets to and shuffle awkwardly around the dance floor with--someone like Sure, I Can Give You a Ride Home Guy. 

Food: The hospital serves fish-pie on Fridays (from religious roots?), Melville takes her to bars and parties where the best she can expect are salted nuts and crudites or potato straws.  We also get roast beef sandwiches, sausages, crisps, watercress soup, steak and kidney pie, home made ice cream, turnips and instant mash ( food), ginger cake, drinks that taste like 'sugared petrol', an omelet and caramel cream, and oyster patties.  (Pretty much, if it sounds awful, Melville peddled it and if it sounds delish (and homey), Radmer did the honors.)  When her whole life crumbles before her eyes, Radmer takes her off for omelet Arnold Bennett, a water ice (?) and cold cucumber soup--which all sounds like he's a Medieval doctor trying not to inflame her humors.

Fashion: She wears a lot of expensive and eye-catching clothes that she can ill afford just to please Melville (high heels, vivid blouses...), even though he's always giving the wrong answer to 'How do I look?' (The right answer is always, 'Darling, you look wonderful tonight.').  Radmer doesn't mind her quilted jackets and sensible shoes.  She wears a short rabbit-fur jacket to a tedious party and gets a lot of mileage out of silk jersey dresses.


  1. With 134 stories in The Canon, I feel comfortable allowing myself to dislike some of the plot lines even as I love all the books. Even if it's combined with the "He's been in love with her for, like, forever" plot line, the "She's in love with the wrong guy" plot line is my least favorite . . . where the Other Guy is around for, like, forever.

    Here's why Off With the Old Love fails for me: it took way too long to get rid of the Old Love. No lie; Rachel is still a) convinced she loves Melville, b) miserable that he doesn't love her, and c) clueless that Radmer even exists as anything other than an agony aunt TEN PAGES before the end of the book. So after all that work, after all those nasty scenes where she's spent too much money on clothes to please Melville, after not one but two scenes where she really should have wised up to how truly loathsome Melville is -- after all that, we get TEN PAGES of a conventional romance: Five pages of home, work, vague sense that life isn't quite as she would like it. Logical conclusion that Melville was not the reason she was miserable on Page T-5. Dawning realization on Page T-4. Awkward scene where she Must Hide Her Feelings From Him on Page T-3. Engineered opportunity for him to declare his feelings (only she doesn't believe him) on Page T-2. Delightful conversation in which he reassures her that he really does love her on Page T-1. And finally: lift-off!

    I appreciate that Radmer is the master of the long-con, but his awesomeness doesn't even come close to counterbalancing the cringeyness of what Rachel willingly endures for a schmuck in a bad waistcoat.

    Mince tarts for me.

  2. Oh what a pity. I felt that the hero was a real one-of-a-kind. He's always twinkling and smiling and good-humored and never, ever does that bored cynical routine that gets a bit tiresome with me.

    I totally agree that the final pages were not long enough but took the lengthy Melville passages as 'The Opposite of What Her Life With Radmer Will Look Like' so felt that they served a very good purpose in establishing a good counter-weight. Anyway, I loved how audacious the hero was as he made him her indispensable romantic adviser...

    The question remains...Will our tastes ever march together? (Enquiring minds want to know...)

  3. Yes, I grant you Radmer is truly a lovely hero. And there's nothing wrong with Rachel, either.

    My complaint is with (shhhh...) The Great Betty. What was so much fun about writing the scenes with Melville that it causes her to shortchange us on all the usual lovely bits like the House Tour o' Love? (Twice -- we didn't tour the London house or the house in Friesland.) Even the usually-omniscient Heroine's Mother despairs of Rachel ever having a chance with Radmer.

    No, it's a recipe where she got the proportions all wrong -- there's a cup of salt and a teaspoon of sugar and it was supposed to be the other way around.

    I'm sure we agree about something. Honest. We must!

  4. We can shake hands over that: The proportions were all wrong!

  5. Betty Barbara here--
    Oh thank you Betty Magdalen. I thought that I was the only one who wanted Rachel to "Wake up and smell the coffee" (as either Ann Landers or Dear Abby used to say!), much sooner than she did. For both her sake and ours.
    And a point you don't raise, which drives me crazy, is that The Great Betty often has her pretty heroines sticking with the total awful boyfriends (of which Adam and Melville are head of the class). Hey Rachel--Melville buttered you up because you were pretty!! Where's you self-esteem? Oh, it's in the Betty mandated cellar. I can understand one of our plain but with lovely eyes heroines sticking with Crud-Boy far longer than she should (been there, done that--but hey, I was 20 and I didn't put up with it for that long).

    This could have been a really good book. Could have. But it wasn't.
    Radmer makes it Mince Pies for me, or maybe Treacle Tart--depending on how I feel.
    I loved him--he tried so hard to give her a backbone. And he did it for her sake and his own. After all, he didn't want a doormat as a wife.

  6. Don't mention self-esteem to me...I'm reviewing Esmeralda this week. Her idea of a boyfriend is the money-grubbing Leslie. Argh.

  7. Betty Debbie--
    But Esmeralda qualifies as a 'plain' heroine, so the fact that she sticks with the unspeakable cad Leslie doesn't bother me near as much as when Betty's pretty/splendidly figured, etc heroines do.
    I have many, many problems with Esmeralda, but her falling for Leslie isn't really one of them.
    Betty Barbara

  8. I hate to disagree with Betty Magdalen, but the entire book is a the romance of Radmer for Rachel--what a lovely indulgence to know he adores her from the beginning (as beautifully detailed by Betty Keira in her review) and get to watch his slow wooing of her.

    I get her not picking up on his cues--he has been compartmentalized by her into a category that she doesn't see as a potential conquest. I think it is darling of her; she could have been lovely and thought he was her due as a result. Instead, she got bamboozled by a slick pseudo-sophisticate--look Melville's a mover in London's glitzy circles, not Duluth's. Picture Greg Kinnear in that Ashley Judd movie--swept off her feet even while trying not to be--that's the way we learn, folks.

    Radmer's "Rules" are exactly my mother's by the way. I laughed all the way through. You won't catch me saying they're both entirely wrong either.

  9. I hate to disagree with Betty JoDee, but she does like to disagree with me.

    I agree that Rachel and Radmer's love story is charming. I'm just sorry I didn't get to read it.

    What I got to read was a story about people who're always on the wrong train platforms, taking the wrong bus, going to the wrong street corners to meet up at the wrong times. And even that wouldn't have been so bad, but Rachel spends all but five pages making those ill-fated trips either with Melville, or with Melville's shade.

    Not her best effort, frankly. (I leave to the reader whether "her" refers to Rachel or The Great Betty.)

    And for lovely indulgences, I'd rather have more of the RDD's POV, as we got in Nanny by Chance.

  10. Well, Betty Magdalen, (put down that bag of popcorn, Betty Keira!) I perhaps have the teeniest more problem with The Great Betty's cavalier attitude toward POVs than you do. She flops back and forth more than a freshman in Creative Writing 101. Having said that, I don't mind glimpses into RDDs' POVs (this is beginning to sound like a used car commercial), but they aren't the over-the-counter drug for me as they are for you.

    Rather, I like the novelty in this book of the RDD demonstrating his POV through his words and actions over and over again, even while still too subtle for an unconceited heroine to get for a bit, while the author not resorting to an omniscient poking into his mind and plopping it out--effective but cheap.

    I think that Radmer was always on the right platform at the right time while chasing a moving Rachel who almost jumped on the wrong train but was plucked off just in time into waiting and patient arms. Perhaps Betty Magdalen just read the train table incorrectly....*laugh

    (Oh, is she gonna make me pay for this one!)

  11. Them's fightin' words! Let me get some more popcorn...

  12. Was The Great Betty guilty of head-hopping? Oh, you bet your sweet krentenbollejes she was. In fact, her head hopping isn't limited to the protags, either -- the passing milkman is as likely to reveal his impressions as anyone else.

    But that's true in the entire Canon. The difference in the later books is that we get more of the RDD/REW's POV. Larger chunks of his thoughts and feelings. I like that, although referring to it as an OTC drug is perhaps overstating the matter. (Vitamin? Antacid? Headache relief? Not sure what section of the chemist's that would go in.)

    Rachel was on the wrong train for very nearly the entire book. She was on the Melville Local (lots of starts and stops) and no matter how many times the kindly conductor asked her if she was sure she was on the right train, she would not get off.

    In anyone else's hands, that would be a heroine worthy of the lowest rating any character can earn: Too Stupid To Live. But The Great Betty manages to pull off the notion of a sensible woman making boneheaded choices.

    It's still not a book I'm going to like.

  13. That's precisely the fun part....Sensible women do sometimes make boneheaded choices. Now, let me just find that photo of you in a gold lame jumpsuit....*laugh.

  14. And I REALLY wouldn't want to read a novel with me in a gold lame jumpsuit! LOL

  15. What I really love about this review is the comments at the end about Swing Dance Guy and I Can Give You a Ride Home Guy. It made me think about Aussie Kevin who I married in 1963. He was the Take Home and Keep Guy. I lost him in 2013, we made it to our Golden Wedding, but I miss him terribly.