Monday, August 22, 2011

Always and Forever--Reprise

I get a little frustrated with this one.  One one hand (Canadian dog-kicking baddies!  Ffreaking awesome surnames!) it's a unique set-up, on the other hand (Always and Forever?  Bland, bland, bland), The Great Betty didn't really smack it out of the park.  Which is all a bummer as I was all set to enjoy the withering blast of Neels' ire raining down on our Canadian friends to the North for once. 
Enjoy the bit you get,
Betty Keira

Half-orphan child of widowed mother.
Widowed mother is rather weak.
Mother marries again.
Step-father is harsh and cruel.
Half-orphan runs away to Great-Aunt, traveling quite a distance in some duress.

No, this isn't a review of David Copperfield, but the above list does bear a striking similarity to the opening scenes of it.

Amabel Parsons ( close to amiable, and yet....yuck). Age 26ish, Araminta from top to bottom. Her widow mother has left her in charge of their B & B while she is in CANADA visiting Amabel's unnamed sister who has recently had an unnamed baby. Sooo. That leaves Amabel in a lonely, somewhat isolated farmhouse, welcoming strangers in to sleep in the bedrooms. During a brief break in the middle of a raging thunder and lightning storm, "The lull was shattered by a peal on the doorbell.". (cue scary slasher movie music). Enter....

Dr. Oliver Fforde (yes, two "f"'s and an "e" -which he would be required to drop if the Fforde Ffamily ever immigrates to America) and his mother. Thus begins our story. Amabel and Oliver (she doesn't have to call him Dr. Fforde) are Ffriends at once, they enjoy each other's company. He worries a bit about her being alone, he visits periodically. Then comes the day....Amabel gets a letter from CANADA....this does not bode well for our heroine. Her absentee mother gives her the Ffabulous news that she is going to stay a little longer in Canada and Get Married!!! and then Mommy dearest concludes with this lovely parting shot "You're such a sensible girl, and I'm sure you're enjoying your independence. Probably when we get back you will want to start a career on your own." This is code for: Since I now have a man in my life, I won't need you. Amabel sits down and assesses her accomplishments. "She could cook - not quite cordon bleu...she could housekeep, change plugs, cope with basic plumbing....tend a garden...Her pen faltered. There was nothing else." It goes on to say that she had her A levels. As far as I can tell, having her A levels would mean that she could go to University. Right? Why do Neels heroines never take advantage of that? I know, you're going to say..."But Betty Debbie, I read a Neels wherein the heroine has gone to university." To that, I say, "Yes, she may have started, but she dropped out...probably so her younger brother or sister could go instead, or to take care of her sick/aging a)mother, b) grandmother, c) aunt, d) second cousin once removed, e) all of the above...." Do they not have scholarships and college grants in the UK? This lack of education keeps coming back to haunt Amabel...

Mummy and new Step-Daddy Keith(why couldn't Betty have named him Edward as in Murdstone??? That would have been so much fun) come home. Step-Daddy immediately plows up the beautiful but old apple orchard so that he can build a big ugly greenhouse Ffor his profitable market garden. Amabel can stay and be unpaid labor, thus saving Step-Daddy a boatload of expense. That might have been okay...but Step-Daddy has an even darker side. In one sentence we Ffind him hitting the old dog Cyril and kicking the old cat Oscar. He then goes on to say that dear old Cyril and Oscar won't be alive much longer, if he has anything to say about it. That tears it. The very next day Amabel throws her bonnet over the windmill with a vengeance. She hauls herself, her luggage AND Cyril and Oscar cross-country to York. Oops, she Fforgot to call Aunt Betsey, I mean Thisbe. (I so identified the beginning of this book with David Copperfield that I thought Aunt Thisbe's name was Aunt Betsey - until I reread the book). Aunt Thisbe bears a striking resemblance, personality-wise to Betsey Trotwood. Aunt T is happy to welcome Amabel, and just as happy, later on, to welcome visiting Dr. Oliver Fforde. Amabel and Oliver have a lovely day together - taking their dogs for walks on the beach at Flamborough (in November or December...on the North Sea). Amabel confides to Oliver that she needs to get a job just as soon as she can, because she found out that Great Aunt Thisbe was supposed to go on holiday in Italy, and Amabel just has to find a job, where she can live in AND take Cyril and Oscar, her Ffurry millstones.

Oliver hears of a possible job through the evil villainess, Miriam Potter-Stokes, an elegant young widow who wants to get her fingers into the Fforde pie (I am sad to report that "Miriam" is also the name of my only granddaughter). Miriam has an old school chum, Delores who just so happens to own a little shoppe in The Shambles and needs a shop assistant. Oliver gives Amabel(that name just doesn't get any better) the heads up about the job, and Amabel is all set. A job (at sweatshop wages), a room behind the shop to live in with Cyril and Oscar, and a sink and a toilet. What?? No shower or bath? That's okay, once a week she goes back to Aunt Thisbe's and takes a bath. Whether she needs it or not. The scenes in York are actually my favorite part of Always and Fforever. Amabel and Oliver walk around town seeing the sights...(I love York - I spent a day there once), then head out to spend the next morning at the sea again. In December. Yeah. Dolores figures out that Amabel's Oliver is the same as Miriam's Oliver, and so gives Miriam a call. Miriam fakes tears and begs Dolores to give Amabel the sack. Which she does. This makes Amabel and her Ffurry millstones homeless. Aunt T is still in Italy, her household helpers are away for 10 Amabel uses up her money for lodging and finally takes sanctuary (great shades of Victor Hugo!) in a little church. Oliver just so happens to show up and takes her to his Great-Aunt Lady Haleford, who is recovering from a mild stroke and is a bit peevish and irascible. Aramintas are great at this sort of thing - companion to the elderlies (British word alert!). She realizes finally that she is in love with Oliver (Oh NO, I Must Not Let It Show). Miriam Potter-Stokes finds out that Oliver is still seeing her, so she sneaks up to Lady Haleford's and tells Amabel that Oliver is a great one for helping lame dogs over styles, but nevertheless, Oliver is Marrying Miriam. This, by the way, is completely and utterly Ffalse. Oliver has never particularly liked Miriam - they went on a few dates and saw each other at parties held by mutual acquaintances. Amabel of course does not know this and is somewhat relieved to be called home to nurse her mother through a bout of pneumonia. Turns out, her mother is practically well - it's just cheaper to have Amabel there than to pay a housekeeper. Oliver finds out what Miriam has done and sort of tells her off "I need a wife who loves me and whom I love", then, after a few days he goes to Ffetch her from her mother. But not without first collecting Great Aunt T (now returned from her Italian sojourn) and installing her at his home to act as chaperon...until the wedding because "Oliver is a stickler for conventions"(which I always think sounds like he hands out campaign buttons at political rallies).

Food: omelettes, egg custard, pork pies, mushrooms in garlic sauce, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, lemon mousse, hot buttered parkin, chicken a la king, lemon tart swimming in cream, prawns, ceasar salad, grilled sole.

Fashion: a jersey dress in a pleasing shade of cranberry red! When Amabel splashes out on a new dress for Christmas she buys....a silvery GREY dress.

Rating: Alas poor Yorick, I mean York, I wish I could rate you well. The best I can rate the names in Always and Forever - beans on toast. Evil Canadian dog-kicking stepfather named Keith - beans on toast. Mother...tinned soup. Great Aunt Thisbe - queen of puddings (she is kind of awesome), plot similarities to David Copperfield - boeuf en croute (I wish Betty had kept going in that vein), the arc of Amabel and Olivers friendship/love - boeuf en croute (like at first sight that turns to love). I suppose if you add it all together, divide by the common denominater, take the square root of Miriam Potter-Stokes, the answer would be somewhere in the neighborhood of treacle tart (with a little lashings of whipped cream for York).


  1. I found this one...rather tepid. It definitely had some odd-for-Betty stuff going on, what with the Nigerian proverbs and disheveled rich English doctor shoveling in the bread and butter - I almost thought it represented a change of direction, but no. Lots of confiding in the faithful canine companion and possessing one's soul in patience - familiar themes that are comforting in their predictability, but don't warrant a second reading.

    Or maybe I just have to visit York to fully appreciate it. I've always fancied a trip to Yorkshire :-)

  2. Betty Keira how are you saying her name? I'd understand the antipathy if it was A-Mabel. Say Am a Belle. It's like Is a Belle only instead of being the object she's owning that beauty. Say it like Charles Aznavour would.

    This was just what I needed last week. Becoming motherless and losing my old job to a younger less experience co-worker who had been laid-off with me (after what I thought was a stellar interview) in less than two weeks had me balling like an orphan calf. First I got to be Jobette with our heroine and weep for all the crap she went through. Then it got better. Hanging with Am a Belle brought out the Winston Churchill in me and now I'm back to my Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up attitude. Back to the job search for me and Am a Belle. Anybody in need of a companion? I'm good at the rough, and my kids think I'm better than Cordon Bleu, whoever HE is. ha ha

  3. Well, Betty Mary, it's Betty Debbie (in darkest Wyoming this week!) who you should apply to for the name as it was her review originally (we swap writing the blurbs for each other's old reviews when we do reprise-es). But I'm willing to bet she was thinking Am a Belle--which I agree with you isn't as bad as some names we're given to work with.

    Best of luck on your job search! Maybe you could bring along a starving family pet in a dilapidated cat basket and promise to change any plugs that go out...?

  4. Great suggestion! I have a very cute kitten and a pretty intimidating looking macho jack russell (my boys insist he's a pit bull, but they are wrong). So maybe the cat in a basket.
    We still haven't named the cat. I wanted to call her Miep, because of the mark on her face and then came up with MKitty. (Kinda like PDiddy) My boys named her rita short for smeegarita. Not a compliment! MMK just calls her cat. So if anyone has a better idea, let me know!
    Her she is with our Macro Jack Russel, Jack

  5. Betty Barbara here--
    Betty Mary, I second Betty Keira's "good luck with job hunt" wish.
    A possible cat name is Moggie(Brit-speak for 'cat').
    Add me to those who think Amabel is a perfectly fine name. At least it doesn't bring to mind clowns(Claribel) or aged aunts(Bertha, Ermantrude, and so on).

  6. This isn't one of my favorite Betty Neels. It's depressing and somewhat a tall tale. "And as if THAT wasn't bad enough, such-and-such happened. And THEN...." However, Betty Mary, I truly feel for your recent losses. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Betty AnHK
    Lovely review, for the convention stickler reference, so now he's a Rich Dutch Spin-Doctor, giggle.
    I agree with Betty Lulu, quite a few of Betty books are structured like series of exclamations on a very tall tale, but in this one especially her plot framework seems more obvious.
    But I actually I quite like this book more than say, Sun and Candlelight, because Oliver doesn't do anything horrible and wants to date Amia-Belle and equally does not also fawn/propose/smooch over some mean unworthy dutch brighton-going tarlet.

  8. When I first started this book, I sloppily read it as "ANabel" until I noticed it was really "AMabel." Then I spent the rest of the book trying to read it as M and not N--not sure I ever got the hang of it.

    Does anyone else think Mrs. Fforde (how annoying is that name?) not up to snuff as Future Mother-in-law? She was almost a complete non-entity considering the amount of screen time she had. Not up to Betty standard I think.

    Opening storm scene is quite good--classic Betty.

  9. Anyone else think it would have been too cold to sleep in the back room of the shop in the winter? I was just waiting for Oliver to find Belle (I changed her name) near death's door with pneumonia. Oh wait, that's another book.