Thursday, March 31, 2011

Once For All Time - 1984


The title of this week's pick is less than memorable. A lot less. There are a few things about Once For All Time that stand out. A very few. The most memorable bit for me is when the hero goes to France to pick up a couple of dead relatives for the heroine. Scenes like those tend to stand out.

Clotilde Collins + Bruce Johnson = an engaged couple who are not destined to make it. Why? Let me count the ways...
  1. Clotilda is a long tall glass of inch taller than Bruce.  Not. Good.
  2. Bruce is 'money hungry'. Clotilde's dad has promised to help Bruce buy himself a practice when the two get married.
  3. Bruce is...well...not cool.
  4. Did I mention that Clotilde is way too hot for a guy named Bruce?
It isn't that Clotilde is too tall,
it's that Bruce is too short. 
There's one more reason for those crazy kids not to make it,  unfortunately:
  1. Clotilde is either blind as a bat OR
  2. Dr. James-I'm Half Dutch-Thackery is shy to the point of being tongue-tied?
Yes,  there's a hot R1/2DD in the offing. Clotilde and Dr. Thackery have been working together for three years.  THREE YEARS.
Twice a week x 52 x three years = 312 cups of coffee (and biscuits) = 0.  All those ward rounds and cups of coffee have led to, well, nothing.

Meanwhile, Clotilde's parents have been on vacation in Switzerland...unfortunately, on the way home, they both come down with a serious case of Death By Car Crash in France.

Dr. T has plenty of time for jibba jabba...
with Clotilde.

Poor's a good thing she has Bruce for help and comfort...oh wait, no she doesn't. He can't be bothered...he's too busy. Dr. T comes through like a champ and even goes to France to pick up the bodies. He's here, there and everywhere. Helping with the arrangements, driving Clotilde back and forth, taking her out for meals, going to the funeral. When he's not there, he's sending messages via Bruce to Clotilde. Bruce, being Bruce, isn't bothering at all with visiting or relaying messages - after all, there's no bottom line, financially speaking.  Especially after the terms of the will are disclosed. In the grand tradition of Neels Estate Planning, Mummy and Daddy Collins have died insolvent.

Bruce dumps Clotilde.  Like we didn't see that one coming. Dr. T is there to pick up the pieces...again,

What follows is a lovely look at James wooing the clueless Clotilde.  She needs broad shoulders to cry on? Check. She needs someone to secretly buy the family home? Check. She needs a night out dining and dancing? Check. He's there through thick and thin.

James introduces Clotilde to his younger sister Katrina.  Katrina is a handy sibling to have around - not only does she go shopping with Clotilde (instant bonding over retail therapy), she can be relied upon to invite Clotilde to visit Holland for a few days before Christmas - James can bring her over when he comes.  A trip for two to Holland? It's time for a little kissing!

Sadly, Dr. Mary Evans would never
be a real contender for the title of
Miss Wales.
Meet the Grandparents! Grandma likes Clotilde, but she unintentionally murks up the waters a bit by telling Clotilde that I'm glad James has decided to marry at last. Which is a surprise...but doesn't fill Clotilde with dismay. A day or two later Katrina mentions that James has fallen for someone at St. Alma's.  Again, no dismay...until Clotilde starts wondering if it might be Dr. Mary Evans, the little Welsh tartlet...she of the padded bra and permed hair. What a tearing shame! Ah, our girl is concerned for James.  That's a start.

Back at St. Alma's, Dr. Evans is quick to imply a deeper  relationship with James than is strictly justified. If there happens to be a birthday party for one of the other doctors, Dr. Evans implies that she and James will be meeting for drinks together.  Clotilde is not alone in disliking Dr. Evans.  One of the other nurses goes so far as to call her a very unflattering name.

Clotilde has really been enjoying having James around - so when he's gone for a week or two her spirits lag - but she really doesn't feel she can ask around to find out where he is or how long he'll be gone (hospital gossip being what it is and all)...When James walks into her office unannounced it's suddenly rainbows and unicorns and fluffy bunnies. Dang, she's in love. And now Clotilde is wondering who the mystery woman is. The mystery woman that James plans to marry. Is it Dr. Mary Evans??? You can bet next month's mortgage payment Clotilde is going to keep an eye on the little harpy.

All this new found love and angstiness does give Clotilde the push she needs to make a change. Time to put in her notice at work.  She just knows that she won't be able to work around James and...[insert name - possibly Mary Evans]...
A sweet good-bye...or is that hello?

Christmas...James has no gift for her this year - because he can't give her her what he'd like.  What would he like to give her? Hmm. I'm guessing an engagement ring, the deed to her old home and a great big sloppy one...but the time is not quite right. Well, it's not right for the first two, but he does manage to give a pretty good 'farewell salute' to Sister Clotilde Collins. 

Soon after, James  is ready to clear some things up - and perhaps propose?
  1. Mary Evans? There is not now, nor has there ever been anything between the two of us.
  2. Your house? I hold the deed.
  3. My darling.....
RING! Yes, it's a hospital emergency - which serves no discernible purpose besides bumping up the page count. A wedding party with food poisoning. Just go with it.

Proposal Part II:
  1. (Stroking her wrist with his thumb) Now where were we?
  2. Oh yes, you finally fell in love with me...I was afraid I was to be cast in the role of  'good friend' forever.
  3. I've loved you for a long time - since before you and Bruce became an item.
  4. Kiss....
RING! Interrupted again!

Proposal Part III:
  1. Drive down to his folks home in Dorset.
  2. Find a quiet place in the garden with NO PHONE.
  3. Will you marry me? We'll live in London and go down to your old family home on the weekends with the kids and....
  4. Whoa, cowboy! I haven't said yes and we're already talking kids?
  5. Marry me?
  6. There's nothing in the world I'd rather do.
  7. We need to make up for those three wasted years....
The end.

(slightly gratuitous Richard Armitage,
as if there could be such a thing...)

Rating: I love how James is able to make Clotilde smile, giggle and laugh. I like the way we get to watch the natural progression of Clotilde's regard for James...respect, friendship, liking THEN love. My biggest gripe is that I'm not fond of the "I fell in love with you before you started dating your fiancee, but didn't say anything until after he dumped you three years later" plot device.  I wouldn't mind it so much if the Great Betty ever let him give us his reason for waiting. This is not the only book in the canon with this plot device (see Heidelberg Wedding or Fate is Remarkable).  In the end, Once For All Time is pretty solid. I appreciated the break from the long string of MOC's that I've been reading. While never quite reaching it's full potential, I found it a nice little comfort read. What to rate it? I'll give it a boeuf en croute (which seems to be my fall-back rating) - partly on the budding romance, and partly on the strength of Mary Evan's padded bra.
Food: chicken in a basket, vol-au-vent financiere, tournedos, Saute Massena, sherry trifle, smoked eel, roast pheasant with vegetables, with a gigantic and very ornate ice cream for dessert. Globe artichokes in a piquant sauce, lobster Newburg, mushrooms with chopped truffles, Waldorf salad, Ananas Fiona, angels on horseback.
Fashion: Long silver-grey jersey with sequins on the jacket, wool dress and fur jacket, brown and coral patterned silk jersey. Dress for the hospital ball: pale grey silk dusted with silvery stars. Mary Evans wears a green dress with a lot of sequins, far too skimpy and low necked.


  1. Pictures of Richard Armitage are never gratuitous...

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    Richard Armitage--sigh!

  3. Betty Barbara again--
    I really like this one, even though Clotilde was just a little dense regarding Sir James. She very successfully compartmentalized him into the 'unavailable because of who he is(senior consultant type)'box. Fool.
    Bruce was a real piece of work. Dumps her and then drops remarks all over the hospital grapevine that SHE was the one to break it off. The rat!
    Don't know why Sir James never made a move pre-Bruce. But that did bother me a bit.
    And I just loved Dr Mary Evans! Loved her! A great Veronica!!
    Sorry this is so disjointed--brain still affected by Armitage photo, I guess.

    1. Is it not customary in HP-landia that when the hero meets the heroine too soon that he will wait until she is ready. Neels' heroines tend to be a bit older, so we assumed, James thought Tilly was too young when they first met to pursue the relationship at that point.

      The heroine will generally signal her readiness for marriage by dating the completely inappropriate 'other man'. Bruce is James' signal that once that dalliance is over, he is free to woo Tilly as he wanted to the moment they first met.

      We must confess we were disappointed in Dr Mary Evans. For the first time in Neels-verse we encounter a 'woman-doctor' but she is written as an exemplar as to why women are incapable of pursuing a serious career in medicine.

      On the upside, James is always deeply respectful of Tilly and doesn't jerk her around. As Cyndi notes below you never doubt their HEA.

    2. There’s another one in Dearest Love. A Veronica.

  4. Is it just me, or does that cover art of Dr. James Thackery make him look like Malibu Ken?

  5. He's better on the Harlequin cover, but the heroine looks like she has mumps. Also the entire cover art looks like an underexposed photo -- very dark and unnervingly shadowy.

    I really enjoyed this. Not top tier, true, but better than average. I'll go with -- okay, maybe not the Queen of Puddings. How about the Princess Royal of Puddings?

  6. Oh my. I think this might be my favorite, though, to be honest, the reason is because it was one of the first I read. Things I love about it: 1) James helps her when her parents die because he wants to help her... no ulterior motive there. He tries to back off out of respect for her engagement to Bruce even though Bruce totally does not deserve that courtesy. 2) I love how he treats Rosie and Clotilde right after the tragedy... 3) of all the BN tragedies, this one actually plays out more like the reality. This is why it takes her awhile to realize she's in love with James. She has better reason than most BN heroines in her position. :-)
    4) I like the end, even the phone calls. He gently drops hints and brings her along a little at a time. He is just such a great guy. You walk away much more sure of their HEA than most romances.

  7. I really like this book:

    1) aforementioned Mary Evans' padded bra;
    2) James is a doll--plays by the rules, never deliberately fools her about another woman--it's others who accidentally do it;
    3)Tilly, while not sophisticated about Bruce, is nonetheless a darling;

    BUT more than that:
    A) the scene where he and she are taking care of Mrs. Jeeves is just beautifully written--he is irritated with the dithering nurse, demonstrating that he would never be taken in by a Veronica and they work naturally as a team foreshadowing a husband/wife combination--I sometimes collaborate with Professor van der Hertenzoon and that scene has that kinda of easy married feel to it;
    B) stroking her wrist with his thumb--if your heart didn't drop to your stomach on that one you need to lay off the valium--gentle and s-t-e-a-m-y at the same time--way to go, Betty!

    I have a new theory about the RDD's waiting so long to make a move (e.g., even before Bruce came on the scene) because of a conversation I had with a friend about her courtship, which sounded like something Betty would have written. When I get a chance I'll write it down and pass it along--very illuminating.

  8. Love this book not sure why... even love the tragedy of the parents and how Dr. James handles everything going selflessly back and forth while Bruce can't be bothered to stay for a meal. Jerk.

    And, I must chime in, Richard Armitage is NEVER gratuitous, in fact, I vote he be included in every review. He could be the talk, dark, handsome, chocolate voiced Dutch Doctor in EVERY book.

    Okay, I'm calm now....


  9. This is seriously my favorite Betty book. I had pneumonia last year,and I had to stay in bed for almost two weeks. Every day I would read Betty books. This one... I read three times in a row. Clotilde and James are such a great couple. I think I'll read it again!

  10. No way to know for sure, but the "I've met the love of my life and she's dating that schmuck over there so I have to bite my tongue and bide my time until he dumps her in a schmucky way, which could take years" ethic seems to be on par with the "don't tattle" proscriptive. In other words, it's Just Not On to interfere.

    Makes you wonder about the Betty Neels Books Never Written, where the schmuck marries the heroine and the RDD dies loveless & unmarried, or worse, marries some salt-cellar-chested clothes-horse. I'm glad we don't have to read those book!

  11. I discovered Betty a couple of months ago. Just read this book - .your review is amazingly funny. I almost fell off my chair laughing when I saw Dennis Kucinich with wife - was Bruce really that short????? Perfect!

  12. I really like this one but although it's silly, for me the biggest regret I have every time I read this book is that her parents died thinking she was going to marry Bruce (who I'm persuaded they must have known was a rotter) and never even got to meet this fabulous man who they would have instantly known, would love and look after their daughter. So this book which I really like, always loses points with me for that very reason.

  13. This is one of my favs. You can almost hear the boos and hisses re Bruce. They seem to be an ideal pair with just enough angst to spice up the story. Yes, definitely a favourite!