Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Suitable Match - 1990

I read most of this book while holding my breath in the waiting room of the doctor's office (holding my breath in a somewhat vain attempt to avoid catching whatever plague du jour was being hacked up by the other patients).  Nearly four hours of my life I'll never get back. The school nurse called to tell me my son had a possible concussion (he's new to this school - this nurse is not familiar with his hypochondriac tendencies). Anyhoo...when the school nurse 'strongly advises' that you take your child to the doctor because they might have a head injury I feel it's best to cover my bases and take him in...but not without stopping off at home for A Suitable Match. (In my defense, my house was on the way). Having something to read probably helped save my sanity today. Shall we start?

Eustacia Crump...ugh...there's just no getting past that Crump. It does help that she's a total babe...tall dark and beautiful. I'm going to pretend that her age was a typo/editorial goof. It's given as 22 - but if you do the math - a few years after school traveling with parents and then at least two years as an orphan...she really must be closer to 24.  I'm going with that. Eustacia lives with her grandfather - both of whom have come down far in the world.  Instead of poor estate planning on the part of her parents, it's a little more serious. Eustacia's dad had been a high flyer for a while - but with his death, we find out that his company was bankrupt, and there's nothing left for Eustacia. Not only that, but most of Grandpa's money was invested in the company. Grandpa and Eustacia throw their lot together in London...but their 'lot' is really a 'little' and Eustacia needs to find a job to augment their dwindling funds.
Half a mile away from their flat is St. Biddolph's...which is in need of a new Assistant Bottle Washer for the Path Lab. It may not be an upwardly mobile career, but it will help pay the bills. In spite of stiff competition, Eustacia gets the plum position. In spite of having to dispose of some truly nasty things, Eustacia is a cheerful and willing worker and as an added benefit she gets to meet hot doctors. Big Man on Campus is Sir Colin Crighton (age 36, cancer specialist). He's not only hot, but also nice.  He doesn't laugh at her funny name, he remembers her, he carries on a conversation with her...ending with 'you are far to beautiful' in reference to her being a lowly Assistant Bottle Washer.

We next meet Sir Colin at Kew Gardens. Eustacia has trundled grandpa into a taxi so they can enjoy a little sunshine before winter sets in. Sir Colin is there with two young boys...Eustacia assumes Oliver and Teddy (age 8 and 9) are his sons, but he very soon disabuses her of that thought - they are in fact, his nephews who have been dumped on him by their parents (his brother) who have traipsed off to Brunei for a few months.  Grandpa is quick to see an opportunity here for Eustacia and Eustacia is just as quick to realize that she and Sir C. don't occupy the same social plane. Nope, 'I'll probably end up marrying another bottle-washer'.  Ah well. Sir Colin  knows a beautiful fish out of water when he sees one.

Skateboarding was just one of her many skills.
Sir Colin (oh heck, let's just drop the 'Sir'), is in a bind. Oliver and Teddy have had the flu, bronchitis and possibly Ebola and their regularly scheduled nanny has bailed on them. What's a Sir to do? Ask Eustacia and her grandpa to come to his country house and babysit. It's only a temp job, but he promises to give her good references.

Here's the job:
  • Looking after two little boys.
  • Going on nature walks in the country.
  • Riding bikes with said boys.
  • Grandpa gets to regale them with stories of India
  • Space aliens.
Colin spends most of the week in town, dating the locals (including a girl named Gloria) and coming home to the boys only on weekends.  This only lasts a week or two until...
Couple Killed in Automobile Crash! News at Eleven!
Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Crighton have managed to get themselves killed in Brunei. Luckily, they have managed to keep their will up to date, and Sir Colin is named guardian, per their request. Mrs. Crighton's mum, Mrs. Kennedy is not happy with the arrangement. She would like to take the poor little orphans back to Richmond with her, so that she may have the opportunity to weep copious tears over them continuously. Yup, she's a Drip.

Being a drip is seldom attractive.

Colin has to go to Holland for a few days lecture tour.  Mrs. Kennedy calls up and Eustacia accidentally lets that cat out of the bag.
I shall be there in the morning to pick up the poor orphans! says The Drip.
Eustacia finds the emergency contact number and confesses her sins to Colin who immediately charters a plane (as you do...) and flies back to sort it out. By 'sort it out' he PROPOSES a MOC and gives her two hours to make up her mind (that's when the drippy Mrs. Kennedy is expected). The boys are happy, grandpa is happy, Mrs. Crighton, senior, is happy, Colin is happy. Mrs. Kennedy is not that was ever going to happen, but there's nothing she can do about it. Eustacia just has one question. 'What about Gloria?' 'She's the last woman I'd marry.' As an added inducement, Oliver offers a great retirement plan. 'When you are an old lady, Teddy and I will take care of you and Uncle Colin'. You can't ask for fairer than that. The boys would like a full on wedding extravaganza...but Eustacia draws the line at a train, six bridesmaids and a diamond tiara. She does promise to wear white and a pretty hat. Eustacia actually accepts money from Colin BEFORE MARRIAGE to bankroll a fabulous new wardrobe and wedding outfit. While not unheard of in the land of Betty Neels, it is rare enough for me to raise my eyebrows.

Sir Colin and Lady Crighton (Lady Crighton = Eustacia!) are coming out of Harrods one day when they run into Gloria. Frankly, one of the best bits of the book:
'This is Eustacia, my wife; my dear, this is Gloria Devlin.'
They shook hands and smiled, and disliked each other at once. Gloria stared at Eustacia with cold eyes. 'My dear, how exceedingly nice to meet you, I have wondered what you would be like. Not in the least like me, but then it wouldn't do to marry an imitation of me, would it?' She laughed and Eustacia said gently,
'I should think it would be very difficult to imitate you, Gloria.' She allowed her gaze to roam over the woman's person, at the same time allowing her eyebrows to arch very slightly and her mouth to droop in a doubtful fashion. It had the effect she had hoped for - Gloria glanced uneasily at her flamboyant outfit and, since Eustacia's eyes had come to rest on her scarlet leather boots, bent her gaze on them.
Brilliant, Betty, brilliant.

Gloria haunts their relationship for a bit...she drops by with Clive The Plastic Surgeon, who is fully appreciative of Eustacia's manifest perfections...much to the chagrin of Gloria.  Frankly, Gloria is no real threat, but Eustacia is angsty enough about her unrequited love to assume things that are just not so.

  • Colin forgets to tell her that he has to go back to she plans to be out when he gets back.
  • The hospital throws a party for them...Eustacia gets to see some of her old associates.
  • Eustacia tells Teddy she loves him and Oliver AND Uncle Colin. Uncle overhears.
  • Mrs. Crighton mixes mild authority with a grandparents legitimate spoiling...nice.
  • Teddy and Oliver have to spend a week with the Kennedy grandparents.  You can tell a lot about a person from their home. The Kennedy's live in a red brick Victorian decorated in beiges and browns.
  • Teddy runs away!
  • Eustacia drives from London to Richmond to find him (The Drip plans to inform the police in the morning that an eight year-old is missing!)
  • Eustacia finds Teddy, Colin finds them both.
A lovely bit with the four of them sharing a bedroom and bathroom. Colin proves himself a man among men by procuring fish and chips and a bottle of wine at ten o'clock at night. All four, plus luggage, squeeze into the Mini for the ride home. 'Fortunately we're all on speaking terms.'

Trip to Holland. Haso and Prudence ter Brons Huizinga (Paradise for Two) put them up. And put up with them. Colin makes no effort to be alone with Eustacia...and she calls him on it.

Prudence drops Eustacia off in Groningen so that she can meet Colin for lunch in Groningen. Eustacia gets lost. Yes, first she gets lost in thought. She and Colin are going to be alone for the first time in a while, and girlfriend plans on making the most of it. Unfortunately being lost in thought leads to being actually lost, which leads to her sitting around in the wrong hospital, which leads to Colin being in a white hot rage when he finally finds her. All this angsty-ness does not go unnoticed by their hosts. Haso has a theory - their relationship needs to come to a head, rather like a boil (ew), before it bursts (double ew). Prudence tell him not to be revolting.

One of the perils of being married to a doctor...
unfinished conversations.
Back in London Colin finally decides that they must have The Talk. Of course he's interrupted by a hospital emergency, but as he's walking out the door he tells Eustacia that it was a case of love at first sight. What??? He loves her? So many questions, but Colin's not there for the answer round. Eustacia falls asleep on the stairs waiting...and snoring.
Lovely kissing and lovely implied conjugal relations. The end.

Rating: Lashings of Whipped Cream! Right up until Eustacia has her Dawning Realization the night before the wedding.  After that the book suffers a bit of unevenness...lovely bits and not so lovely bits which tend to drag it down a bit.
  • Eustacia may be a bottle washer, but she has also had a whirl in retail, taken a course in shorthand and typing AND looked into applying at the post office. I adore that she's looked into her options.
  • Grandpa...he's a load of fun and useful! He's going to be the best kind of person to have around - someone who's great at entertaining Teddy and Oliver AND a homework helper.
  • Teddy and Oliver are just as cute as can be. 
  • Colin is fine...but it would have been nice to have a little more insight into his character. 
  • Mrs. Kennedy is such a gosh awful grandmother - I love that Eustacia practically wants to smack her for being such a drip.
Final rating? Hmm. It probably averages out to nearly a Queen of Puddings.  Let's go with that.

Asparagus Flan? I'll pass.
Food: Cauliflower cheese, can of soup and scrambled eggs, muffins swimming in  butter, Marmite on toast fingers, tomato basil souffle, roast lamb with new potatoes, puree of broccoli (sounds like a particularly awful baby food variety...), asparagus flan (ditto), mousseline of lobster, noisettes of lamb, biscuit glace with raspberries and pralines, late night fish and chips in the bedroom.
Fashion: Pre-marital shopping trip (on his dime) at Harrods, including a white wedding dress and hat and elegant shoes, a beautiful tailored suit in a rich brown tweed, black skirt and a glamorous cream satin top, exquisitely embroidered.


  1. Thank you -- you summed it up perfectly: Love the bits with the bottles, love the bits with the kiddies, love the scene with the Other Woman (who's so out of Eustacia's league, it is funny), but didn't love the book.

    Eustacia gets way too whiny for my taste, while at the same time there are bread crumbs that could feed a family of four left around to let Colin know he's loved and it's time to SAY IT ALREADY.

    About the name:

    I'm pretty sure even if it's a typo, it's still not good.

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    I quite enjoyed the book. I think I was most surprised that Our Betty let Grandpa live!! When we first met Eustacia and Grandpa I just knew he was a goner.
    But no, it was the poor parents of two of the cutest boys Neels has ever done. I just loved Teddy and Oliver.
    Can't forgive the Crump, though. Poor girl can't even come up with an alternate pronunciation (Bucket=Bouquet, for example!).
    And Betty did a good job of contrasting the two grandmothers--both grief stricken, each handling it very differently! Likewise, Betty shows that the kids are also grieving--nice touches, there.
    But, Betty Debbie, you are right, we don't get enough on Colin.

  3. (Bucket=Bouquet, for example!)...hahahaha. Looks we've got another fan of Keeping Up Appearances around here!

  4. LOVE Keeping Up Appearances. :)

    I introduced my great-niece Jennie to the series last fall, just after she got her first cell phone. She loved the description of the Bucket's trimline princess phone, blah blah, and she'd also just for the first time watched Forrest Gump - with it's "Jen-nay."

    She did a hilarious message on her phone describing her phone in excruciating detail in a Forrest Gump accent, saying, "Hello, this is Jen-nay. Isn't that just the purtiest name for a little girl? I'm speakin to you on my Nokia..."

    I love kids. :)

    And yes, Teddy & Oliver are wonderful. Grandpa, bless him, is just as wonderful.

    I'd have liked to know more of Colin's thinking but by his very solid-ness we know a good bit about him, and the way he reacts in the Great Getaway from the wicked grandmother's house, too, is telling. Wonderful Man Indeed.


  5. I was floored that they all squeezed into a room for the night. That seemed like an unBetty moment. But, it also made me like Colin more.

    I also like that he told her he loved her before leaving. Betty is notorious for sending her RDDs off at the worst time when they should clearly say SOMETHING. If you have something really important to say (that's not awful), can't you say it before heading to the emergency appendectomy/ rhinoplasty/ saving of small boy who feel from a window?

  6. Betty Barbara here--

    Betty Caitlin, I think Colin and Oliver headed off to a guest room and Eustacia got Oliver's bed and stayed in the boys' room with Teddy. At least that's how I read it. I was wondering how they were going to arrange the sleeping arrangements!

    I loved the idea of the four of them, crammed into a Mini, for a several hundred mile trip.
    I've taken trips like that! (Three adults, two pre-teens, one Corvair, north Texas to San Antonio and back. In the summer, no A/C!!)

  7. Summer vacation last year: Three adults, 2 teenage boys, and all the luggage from a packed mini-van, redistributed into a Chevy HHR rental car. The miracle was that we stayed on speaking terms.

  8. That makes more sense, Betty Barbara!

    We always look like the Clampetts when we head off on vacation -- roof piled high, all available space crammed with luggage, food and kids. There is really no classy way to travel in a Dodge caravan.

  9. Three adults, two teenagers and a 9 year old (me) on a 22 day cross country trip in 1968, which included, much to my mother's dismay and lasting anger, a trip across the Mojave at 3 pm in the afternoon - with no A/C.

    Dad had purchased the brand new car the month before and DELIBERATELY didn't get A/C because he wanted us to "experience" desert heat.

    Mom's comment, til the day she died? "Yeah, we EXPERIENCED it, all right! I wanted to brain that man! He never even broke a sweat!" And it's true - he didn't.

    That whole part of the book is one of my all time Neels' favorite sequences. The reunion of the new little family, the boys' confession of misery, etc., the fish and chips and the snug ride home - all so lovely. :)


  10. My thoughts:
    Crump's not so bad knowing the fact that Betty named Colin's office asst. Miss Butts.
    I'm picturing Betty with the Obituaries. "Hmmm a couple of great names here, Aha, the perfect name for my lovely Eustacia. And here's just what I need for the office help"

    I liked this one, but about page 149, I'm going 'Just quit this prickery stuff and fess up to loving each other, DAG NABBIT'

    Notice the Drip has an Irish name. 8-(
    Of course it's her married name.

    My small car, too many peoplestory.
    Scene: Madrid to Avila Spain in a Seat (smaller than a VW Bug). The Professor has been shipped TDY to Turkey and the In-Laws come - 5 strong. I've got a my tiny minheer just 6 mos old, with Olivia #1 on the way. So here we go. Over weight MIL, overbearing FIL, large and over-wrought Son (20ish), smaller over-loud son(10ish), medium sized over-cosseted daughter.
    All of us, plus baby in small 5 seater.
    This was way before mandatory car seats. Over-loud son sat on over weight MIL in front passenger seat. The rest squozed into back seat with baby on spoilt girls lap. So glad I was that I was driving. We drove two hours there and back. And then they wanted to go to Zaragoza the next day (4 hours each way). At that point I reveal the secret pregnancy and told them to take the train.

  11. My worst small car+many people(before mandatory seat belts): 4 adults(me, husband and two of my sisters) and 5 children(including 2 nephews) in a Ford Escort Wagon(which sounds big, but isn't). It wasn't so much that we were squished - all the kids were under 5 - and one of those was only 1 month old. It was that we got slowed down by blizzard conditions and had to follow the snow plow over the mountain passes. Instead of a grueling 16 hour trip, we had a nightmarish 24 hours. Was it worth it? Yes, as it was the last time we were able to see my mother and have her recognize us before she passed away.

  12. Betty Mary,
    I responded to your comment about Mrs. Butts on the wrong post, dag nabbit!

    I pointed out that Jake from All Else Confusion, has a secretary named Mrs. Butt.

  13. I'm not a huge fan of the MOC thing, but this one sounds good. For one thing, there is a very reasonable reason for the two of them to go ahead and get hitched. So often, that part is contrived. It sounds as though the supporting characters are well drawn too. Can't wait to read it!

  14. Surely there is a novel about Turville/Turville Heath in which nothing happens except travel to London and back?

    This is not it - an amazing amount happens!

    I wonder about the English doctors . . . there isn't the magic of the wonderful Dutch names to offset the sheer implausibilities . . .

  15. Forgot to say I loved it.

  16. I have always liked this Betty. All the bits and pieces of criticism are right, but I have always liked it. Maybe it is the RBD shaving without his shirt on that does it for me!

  17. One of my favorite parts of the book (though it never enjoys the reprise I hoped for) is when they pretend to be a couple in love for the horrible Kennedy in-laws. Does he even sneak in a kiss? At any rate, it's a very, very rare setup for Neels, but I just love when couples have to pretend an affection they haven't yet figured out.