Monday, December 19, 2011

A Girl in a Million--Reprise

 
Dear Bettys!  You all know what suckers The Founding Bettys are for sad, woeful tales full of Araminta awesomeness.  And this one has all sorts of wonderful angles--heroic nursing (on her part), confused condescension (on his part), the parry and thrust of romantic one-upsmanship (on both their parts).  It's a lovely book. But why is that red ball bouncing on the cover!!!!
Fruit pies and figgy pudding,
Betty Keira 


Caroline Frisby ,24(small, thin and plain...except for eyes and hair), and Aunt Meg are on holiday in Holland. Caroline delivers a package for her nursing student, friend, Corinna (it's a good thing she didn't fly to Holland...suspicious packages....). As she's leaving, she misses the last step and and unlike a cat, falls down in a heap at the feet of Marius van Houben - our RDD. He stands her up, dusts her off and marches her inside so that he can bind up her scrapes. We are then treated to a whirlwind tour of Amsterdam:
  • Oude Kerk
  • Nieuwe Kerk
  • Koninklijk Palace
  • Anne Frankhuis
  • a bewildering succession of museum
  • finally, the Rijksmuseum
All in one day. Caroline and Aunt Meg were certainly out to get their money's worth of sights on their coach tour. Editors Note: Coach tours. Hmm. That brings to mind two words...Band Trip! I can't think of a more soul sucking way to go vacation. I was introduced to coach trips as a teenager (which is probably why I have no fond memories) when the marching band I was in took their yearly trip. There's nothing quite like sitting in one bus(coach) while the adolescent males in the other bus hold up girlie magazine centerfolds to the window. Ah, thanks for sharing. After traveling home in the coach, Aunt Meg tells Caroline that they could have done with a Bentley..."now that's the way to travel." I agree. I'm sure a Bentley would be much less soul sucking than a coach. Back at the hospital (did I forget to mention that she's smack in the middle of nurses training? My bad), Caroline steps on the wrong toes...literally, and gets transferred to Children's, where who should walk in but the man at whose feet she fell? Who doesn't seem to recognize her. Oops. They get thrown together quite a bit when young Marc van Boursel is admitted to the Children's Ward after a bit of brain surgery. Caroline is one of the nurses (well, student nurse) who is asked to "special" (British word alert) the comatose toddler. The Venerable Neels is at her most medical when Sister Crump is giving the nurses who will special Marc instructions, "...a craniotomy and decompression of the vault - but there is some diffuse neuronal damage....[also] oedema and some haemorrhaging so be on the look out for coning." Neuronal damage? Coning? How 'bout "Baby Boy has a Thump on His Head." As she leaves Caroline to take care of the sick little boy she gives one more pithy piece of advice "Just keep your hand on the panic bell." Well, duh. The next 20 or 30 pages deal with Caroline specialing Marc. We shall skip lightly over this part. Suffice it to say, that by dint of hard work and singing lots of nursery rhyme songs, little Marc pulls through. Sister Crump describes Caroline as being like a bulldog. "Once she gets her teeth into something, she doesn't let go." ...A conspiracy is formed to get Caroline to go to Holland so that she can continue to nurse Marc for a couple more weeks. Madge the Nurse is mad that Caroline is chosen to go...she let's off quite a rude remark "your brain's as dull as your face." Excuse me? Did she really just say that? Wow. Now that Caroline has been chosen to go to Holland, it's time for a shopping trip to Marks & Spencer! After spending some time drooling over mini-skirts and vivid tops (this is 1993 - I don't remember mini-skirts being that in vogue...knee length, maybe), she sensibly ends up buying a green voile two-piece. Caroline is about to find out that traveling with the monied class is different than coach tours and bus queues...going through the airport with Mevrouw van Houben was quite a different kettle of fish. Editor's Note: I'm writing this review the day before going on a trip that will involve 3 airports - Sea-Tac, Atlanta and Charleston. While I've never been to the Charleston airport, I have had plenty of experience at Sea-Tac, and a few memorable layovers in Atlanta. I'm trying really hard not to be jealous of the lack of queues in this book. Caroline, Mevrouw van Houben and little Marc travel to the van Houben homestead at Alpen-aan-de-Rijn, in an ambulance. I'm not sure I quite understand the need of an ambulance. Why don't they just borrow Uncle Marius' socking great Bentley? Of course Marius walks in on Caroline in the middle of eating lunch - she has a mouth full of food. Awkward. She pours herself another cup of coffee and proceeds to sip it while Marius is waiting impatiently for her. When she finally finishes she says, "I'm ready when you are, sir." "Don't cross swords with me, young lady - you might come to grief." She judges it prudent not to answer that. Yessirree - by all means, let's be prudent. A few more pages of nursing young Marc, and it's time for...

An Interlude in Amsterdam or Let's Take the Kid to the Hospital For Days of Tests.
Marc is to go to hospital in Amsterdam for some tests - just to make sure he's doing okay - of course he will be taking his private nurse, Caroline. Editor's Note: My experience with the healthcare "system" here in the U.S. is quite different. Here, if we have tests, most likely it will be on an outpatient basis. Waiting for hours in a soul-sucking waiting room with horrible flourescent lights. "Not that anyone could look good under these zombie lights. I, I, I, I can feel them sucking the juice out of my eyeball. Suck, suck, suck, SUCK..." - Joe vs. The Volcano. Now, back to our story...Marius asks Caroline to go out to dinner with him...on a whim. She turns him down - sure that he didn't mean to do it (he didn't!). Caroline says that she is going out with some of the nurses, which of course is a bald-faced lie, and you know that nothing good ever comes from telling bouncers. She sneaks out of the hospital after dinner intent on exploring Amsterdam after dark. By herself. Because she doesn't have looks or much money, she feels pretty safe...lucky for her Marius was watching her sneak out and follows her, because she is accosted by Ill-Kempt Man! Horrors. It's nice that someone is finally showing an interest in accosting her, unkempt or not. A little coffee with Mr. van Houben by the Rembrandtsplein will fix that right up. It's right around this point that Marius begins to change a wee bit. He starts talking to his dog, Neptune aka Nep, about Caroline. He had no fewer than 5 conversations with his canine friend during the second half of the book. Personally, I feel this bodes well for him. Any man who can talk to a dog and ask advice of a dog can't possibly be all bad. Caroline and little Marc now return to Alpen-aan-de-Rijn (which looks like "Alps on the Rhine" to me...) where Marius comes and invites Caroline to spend a day sightseeing with him. She gets a slightly mulish expression on her face and wants to turn him down, but Marc's mother is right there and accepts for her (great, first she's called a bulldog, and now she's a mule?). This leads up right up to: Caroline's Grand Day Out. Marius really does our girl proud. My favorite part of the day (besides shopping in a flea market!) is when he takes her to his home and introduces her to his cat, Jane, "...nothing to look at but a charming character and a splendid mother." Well, if that's not a type and shadow, I don't know what is. At the end of this fabulous day, our heroine has her dawning realization - the fairly hopeless kind. I don't know why she had to feel so hopeless - the man just spent an entire day escorting her around what seemed to be the entire country of Holland. If that doesn't say something about a guy being interested...

Back in London, Marius's cousin Corinna takes Caroline out to lunch at Marius's home in Chiswick. Then Corinna calls up Marius and chats about Caroline...Corinna can smell the budding romance - even if both parties are avoiding talking about each other. Enter, Robert Brewster, Muddier of Waters. The new houseman strikes up a friendship with Caroline, so that he can take her out and talk about his fiancée. Miriam. Marius see the two of them together and assumes a closer relationship...this faulty idea is not helped at all when Brewster, Muddier of Waters, tells Marius that he will be getting married soon...to a nurse...who likes paediatrics....This might be construed as a bad thing for Caroline's interests, but I'm convinced that the supposed competition is what really makes Marius wake up and smell the hummus. He shows no interest in going out with a handsome woman in her late thirties, "who spent a good part of each day keeping middle age at bay". *snort* Keeping middle age at bay? *snort*. More talking to the dog ensues. Around this time, Caroline gets transferred out of Children's Ward and into Casualty. The nice thing about Cas is that it kept her too busy to think too much about Marius. The bad thing about Cas is that's where Caroline picks up a nasty case of the MEASLES! I have to thank La Neels for introducing the medical term "Koplik's spots" into my vocabulary. Anytime I see that term, I immediately know that we're dealing with a case of measles. Caroline is quite ill...when cousin Corinna hears of it, she calls up Marius who CHARTERS A PLANE!!! to come see Caroline. Wow, I'm impressed. While Caroline is in the hospital, Marius has another conversation with Brewster, wherein the waters are cleared and he finds out the Brewster is planning on marrying Miriam, NOT Caroline. After a couple of weeks in the hospital (with measles?), Caroline is granted two weeks of sick leave. TWO WEEKS. Marius thoughtfully waits to propose (so she can regain her strength...and maybe some curves) until Caroline goes back to work...and then he gets down to the business of snogging and proposing. Her superior is informed of the fact that Caroline is leaving "...as from today, with the full permission of the board of governors." Sister Moss rose from her chair, her complexion dangerously puce...."You're on the board, sir,"observed Sister Moss awfully. "Indeed yes, Sister. You will wish us happy?" The End
Rating: I will cautiously give this one a "boeuf en croute" with the caveat that this is a VERY gentle story...there is no other woman and even Robert Brewster, Muddier of Waters, is just a simple misunderstanding. Marius does do a little knight in shining armour business when he rescues Caroline from The Unkempt Man - and I love, love, love that he charters a plane to come see her when she has the measles. Caroline spends most of the book taking care of sick infants of one sort or another, and there is never really any flirtation (which I wish it had). I was talking to Betty Keira about this book earlier in the day and I told her, "there's nothing to really sink your teeth in" - that's very true, but that doesn't mean that A Girl in a Million isn't a sweet little story.
Food: a can of Dutch soup, rhubarb and custard, apple crumble, sausages and chips, homemade biscuits, duckling with orange sauce, straw potatoes, castle puddings, omelette, chicken soup, cheese soufflé, beefburgers, minced chicken, junket, yoghurt.
Fashion: blue denim skirt, silvery grey cotton shirtwaister, flowered skirt, the inevitable cardigan, plastic mac, pale green voile two-piece, a jersey dress that won't crush, Laura Ashley pink dress with wide lace collar, navy and white dress with navy jacket.

11 comments:

  1. I have always liked this book. And I just loved the "Don't cross swords with me, young lady - you might come to grief." scene, because finally there was an Araminta who deliberately set out to annoy the hero. Good for her! And his answer is one of my favourite lines in Neeldom.

    "Why is that red ball bouncing on the cover?" - Having read the book several weeks ago I may be mistaken but didn't little Marc play ball on the lawn when Caroline was in Holland?

    "Alpen-aan-de-Rijn (which looks like "Alps on the Rhine" to me...)" - Yes, it does look that way - because there is an "h" missing.

    Alphen aan den Rijn. (If you care to hear it pronounced Wikipedia has an audio file. For a different accent click on Nederlands in the Languages list on the left, and then click on "uitspraak" next to the loudspeaker symbol.)

    Betty Anonymous

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  2. No, little Marc did not play ball on the lawn.

    Betty Anonymous

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  3. Betty Barbara here--
    Just finished re-reading this and I have a time warp question:
    Caroline is 24, 2nd year nursing student. It is mentioned that she 'got a late start' and was thus several years older than her peers. Okay, I'm fine with that. Elsewhere, we learn that Dear Aunt Meg scrimped to put her through school, which I am assuming means a good high school, not university. So that means that Caroline finished her formal schooling at 18.
    So What The Heck Was She Doing For Four Years??
    Or is this one of those hints that Betty wasn't always paying attention to the details-especially in her later books?

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    Replies
    1. I thought that she made Caroline twenty four rather late on because a nineteen year old and Marius would have raised eyebrows - she then alter the back story properly.

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    2. It should say DIDN'T ALTER! Sorry.

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  4. The red ball might have been the illustrator's rendering of page 90: "...happy to sit in the garden with Caroline carrying on the peculiar conversations which they held, each in their own language, playing simple childish games and walking to and fro on the lawn at the back of the house."

    But I prefer the theory of (ominous music) THE LOST PARAGRAPHS FROM A GIRL IN A MILLION, somewhere between p.90 and p.91:

    Marc held up a ball. "Rode bal!"
    "Red ball," said Caroline and Marc giggled, tossing the ball down the well-kept, gently sloping lawn, necessitating that Caroline ran pell-mell after it behind a picturesque copse of mulberry trees. It was unfortunate that as she unbent from scooping up the wayward toy, a familiar voice said from somewhere close behind her, "Now this is a side of Miss Frisby I've never seen." Suppressing a yelp and quickly turning round, Caroline, aware that the pins had come out of her streaming hair and that her neat frock had become regretfully untidy, hid her surprise and embarrassment behind a snappy, "You shouldn't frighten a person like that!" She added a belated "sir."

    "My dear good girl, I was merely enjoying the grounds when I turned the corner and was nearly accosted not only by a red ball but a run-away fury."

    Caroline had her mouth open to round in on this piece of rudeness when Marius said in a bored voice, "Let's return to Marc, shall we?"

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  5. Oh, very well done, Betty Lulu. Didn't make me giggle exactly. But I'm still wearing the smile.
    Betty Anonymous

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  6. I misplaced my copy and just finished my reread today.
    Maybe that isn't a ball. Could it be a red Frisby?
    No, there isn't a frisbie in the story either, but if we can imagine a ball...

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  7. Betty van den BetsyJanuary 6, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Betty Mary, henceforward I shall always think of it as a red Frisby. Thank you for the chortle!

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  8. Good job Betty Lulu, roundly Bettyish.

    And so slow, duhhhh, but 'frisby' just got it, giggling!

    p210 or so Caroline and Marc do go outside and play with a ball, but that's one of the more obscure covers.

    Thanks for the funny review. Just adore this book, predominately because it is so gentle and winding - its such a nice change when the hero is the one who is green-eyed and lovelorn for quite a few chapters. Love it when the handsome Prof is forced into a silent repressed 'towering rage' which I imagine like a fiery backdraft in a four story alms-house.
    Betty AnHK

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  9. I reread A Girl in a Million last night, and the ball is on page 168. :) "Caroline was kneeling on the grass, tossing a ball to Marc, her back to the house" until the sudden, silent appearance of Mr. van Houben. At that point, I imagine, the shock and joy made Caroline throw the ball way over Marc's head, and the ball went bouncing willy-nilly down the slope and into the water, never to be seen again.

    Betty AnoninTX

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