Monday, August 27, 2012

Blow Hot, Blow Cold - Reprise

Blow Hot, Blow Cold was one of the later books that I picked up from the canon - and I was thrilled with it.  I love picking up Neels that don't quite fit into a cookie cutter.  It has so many delightful little details - tree climbing, dog named The Blot, hospital fire, and lots of lies (wicked lies...). The whole bit with her hastily made up banker boyfriend managed to be both hilarious and poignant at the same time.  Sophy trying to fix up Max with her nurse friend.  Brilliant. I do wish La Neels hadn't abandoned Sophy's family so thoroughly - I would have appreciated some follow up.  Hmm.  There's a thought.  I think it would be a blast to write our own epilogues for some of these books. I'll get us started:

Bill kissed Penelope soundly as soon as the vicar gave the go-ahead...

Your turn, add a sentence or two - let's see what happened to the Greenslade family, the van Oosterweldes, Sinclair, The Blot...

-Betty Debbie
Blow Hot, Blow Cold, Visiting Consultant, Visiting Surgeon, Surgeon from Holland. What do all these have in common? They're the same book. Okay, they're almost the same book. My copy of Visiting Consultant (published as a Best of Betty Neels in 2001) refers to a dance being conducted with a CD player. Dear me, Harlequin. You think the electronics are the most out-dated thing in a Betty Neels?

Theatre Sister Sophia ('Sophy') Greenslade is inching inexorably towards 26. On the asset side of the ledger she has a pair of gorgeous eyes, a quick sense of humor and a loving family. On the debit side she has the primary responsibility for that loving family (two brothers, a sister, a granny and Sinclair (her deceased father's ex-batman)), no social life and a shy personality. Oh and she's short.
When she finds her youngest brother on her sidewalk in the custody of Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Glowering her heart gives a thump. She was, she told herself, very angry. Little brother Benjamin was chasing The Blot (the dog) and the family cat (whose name fails to make the cut) into a Bentley-traveled street.
Him: Oh, so you're Sister Sophy.
Her: What of it?

Him: The boy might have dinged my fender.
Her: Oh I'll show you a dinged fender...

It doesn't go well but he is left with an impression that she is a girl with skills. Brother managing, dog naming, two-fingered whistling skills. He is instantly smitten.
Professor Jonkheer Maximillan van Oosterwelde (39 and hot, hot, hot) is taking over for Uncle Giles (her godfather and the chief surgeon) for several weeks. Sophy is skittish but they settle down to a placid working relationship wherein he shows a maddening tolerance for minor nursing hiccups. (Is there anything more abhorrent than being patiently tolerated?)
One day, while stuffed into her office for coffee and digestives, Bill, a young resident surgeon, leans over and makes plans to come over to her house. Ah, young love!...but it's not what you think. It's not what Max thinks, come to that. Bill is in love with Penelope, Sophy's 15 year-old-sister, but is 'man enough to hide it' until she's older. In the mean time he helps her with her trig homework and takes them to the zoo.
Editorial Note: I think that's just about the most adorable side story in the History of Neelsdom. Now forget it. Betty does.
Overhearing this, Max manages to work in a cutting remark while offering her a lift home. Loosen up, Sophy and sit back. Isn't Bill Evans rather young for you? Grrr. Sophy knew it had been a mistake to lean back against the leather seats of his socking Bentley.
It is wonderfully satisfying then, when told about Bill/Penelope (I tried in vain to mash up their names into something treacly like Bennifer or Brangelina or TomKat but, alas, Peneloill didn't fly.), he has to climb off his high horse.
Max begins to make himself at home with her family--meals together, outings with the children--Uncle Giles is Max's godfather too and that seems enough to be going on with but it doesn't look like he's really in need of her company and she's shy of butting in where she might not be wanted. So, obeying an instinct she can not as yet articulate, Sophy arranges her off-duty and her free time so as to avoid him. She knows, in a secret corner of her mind, that he spells danger. However, since the whole point of him being with her family is to see her, he notices her absence. Storming into her office, he announces, 'What have I done?'
Well, she's not sure yet either and when he lays into her, telling her that he is not interested in laying violent hands on her or in flirting with her (true. He wants to put a ring on it.) she can do one of two things:
A) React huffily and deny, deny, deny. (Always a favorite choice.)
B) Acknowledge a painful, if humiliating, truth. (I vote this one!)
I'm afraid I've become a real old maid in the last few years. Oh, Sophy.
I just love her in that moment. There she is, up to her chin in responsibilities and no social life to speak of and this man (this hot, hot man) is shaking her composure. What she ought to have said was, 'What have you done? You've made it impossible for me to look at another man for the rest of my life and, since you're impossibly out of my league, this means you've doomed me to a spinster's life. Thanks for nothing.'
It is the next day, while scrubbing up for surgery, that she has her forehead-slapping dawning realization.
Oh dear. What now?

When we have leisure, you shall explain that remark to me.
Indeed, I will not, sir.

What now? she asks. Now, she has to try and set him up with her gorgeous friend Mary. (Just go with it.) This involves some subterfuge on her part and is a hilarious failure (Do you know what we talked about? Delayed primary suturing. He...held forth.) and Max doesn't waste any time getting Sophy alone to explain a thing or two:
I'm not available.
...I understand perfectly what you mean.
I wonder if you do.
Drat. That and references to Max's 'evenings out' strangle any faint hope that she might let him know she rather likes him in their pram.
What's a girl to do--muddled in love and snatching at her pride like a flyaway hat? Make up a boyfriend, that's what.
He is John Austin (a name she chooses because it's easy to remember. She promptly muddles it.) who lives in Harrogate and is a bank manager with dark hair and blue eyes and isn't too tall.
Editorial Note: Max knows she's lying right from the get go and he manages to flog that horse into the ground over the course of the book. Sometimes Max uses John Austin as a weapon, sometimes a tool, and sometimes a joke. I feel sorry for Sophy already. Fibbers never prosper.
They go on a smashing date though (because the legendary John Austin is in Harrogate. And then Max invents a cock-and-bull story about a sick dinner partner and some handy tickets.) and it reminds us that they are really ideal for one another.
But at this point in the plot you're thinking to yourself, 'Golly, I sure wish an unsuitable houseman would get Sophy drunk or her parents would die (taken!) or a bomb would go off at the hospital.' Hospital bombs and an ensuing fire? That we can do.
While operating, little whorls of smoke start to eddy under the door and Max orders Sophy to take herself off while he and the anesthetist finish up without her. Her refusal to retreat is merely one more jewel in her eternal crown.
Tucking her firmly under his arm, Max runs the gurney out of the OT just as the roof begins to collapse. They've saved each other's lives but there's no time for breathless romantic interludes. It's all hands on deck as the wounded are shunted to various other hospitals and triage is done in the hospital conference room. When she comes off duty (many hours later) he has come to take her home. But not before a little pity kissing which you might think, given the mythical status of her boyfriend, would be just what the doctor ordered.
Since the operating theatre is...ahem...out of operation, Max returns to Holland--not before making a thorough goodbye of nearly everyone excepting Sophy. She rates a fortifying handshake given in the company of others. She's a bit hurt and bewildered but Max, no doubt, thinks that since he can't say goodbye the proper way (kissing and proposals) than he'd best not do it at all.
When his letter comes, begging her to take a temporary position with him as theatre sister in Holland for three weeks, she doesn't want to say yes. But she has to or there's no book so she lets herself be persuaded.
We leave behind all of the charming secondary characters we've grown to love in England just as Sophy does. They are hardly mentioned again.
Just as soon as her plane touches down in Holland, Max whisks her off to meet Mevrouw van der Wijde. Tineke.
Him: Hey, Sophy, baby, let's swing by and meet a gorgeous and wealthy widow woman who is totally unrelated to me. She possibly wants to check you out because she, as my main squeeze, has the right to object to my female employees.
I totally forgive Sophy for misconstruing their relationship. Max did say he wasn't available and already had a best girl. I guess this is she.
Her suspicions are confirmed when she asks another nurse why Max is 'of course' not free on Friday. Does he sleep in a coffin and drink the blood of the living? Is he moonlighting as a lounge singer? No, responds the nurse (mortified to think she might be repeating gossip), goes home...where Tineke also is.
Editorial Note: Betty glosses over the details but it is difficult to construe what the embarrassed Dutch nurse thinks this to be as anything other than a weekly friends-with-benefits booty-call. In the land of the RDD, why else would they not be married? I can just picture Maise-the-ward-maid explaining things with a cigarette dangling from her lips: They ain't playing Canasta, I'll tell you that right now.
While in Holland, Max discovers that Sophy is having a birthday. Within minutes Max arranges flowers and then a surprise dance at his house later that evening. Wow. That seems ripe with intention.
But, to round out the numbers, Max invited a European gigolo. No, not really. Harry the Inoffensive is a social butterfly but there's no harm in him...right up until he gets Sophy's number and dances her around the floor. That's what comes of failing to properly vet your guests, I suppose.
Max's jealousy prompts him to conduct a really proper row.
Him: Hey, happy birthday. Let's insult your taste and age and judgment in relation to Harry. Oh, and John know about him too because, among your other myriad faults, which, as you can see, I have listed here with appendices and cross-referencing notes, you are a terrible liar. Have I said happy birthday?
She's humiliated at being caught out and called...names but manages to preserve her dignity with small talk. His response is to kiss her into next Tuesday.
He wants his face slapped, is what he wants.

Happy Birthday.

He's in a grotty mood in the morning too and is her own particular demon in OT. But seeing her really upset pops his bubble. He makes some really handsome apologies and she is friendly enough to accept them.
Him: So...this might be a good time to talk about Booty-Call Tineke.
What a bummer the phone rings.
He tries again the next day but she heads him off at the pass. I'd much rather you didn't tell me. Anyway, I know. He is surprised (No one ever expects their text-messages to be hacked...) but she has to run off for an outing with Tineke so that's that.
Upon her return, Max needs her to assist in a difficult amputation and we get to see his sterling qualities. You're a kind and good man, Doctor. Dear me, Sophy, don't speak so soon.
Harry the Inoffensive has chased her down at last and invited her to a concert. Max invites himself along with another group of friends just to keep his eyes on our girl and then cuts her evening off with a made up message about on-call duty.
He presents himself to her the next morning so that she can rain fire and brimstone over his head but she admits good-naturedly that he hadn't, in fact, ruined her evening. What a shame that he can't let it go at that.
That's better. What a pity your choice of boy friends is so unsuitable. John Austin didn't do you much good, either, did he?
He deserves her tears-crowding-her-throat, 'I hate you.'
How awkward it is, then, to have to thank him, mere hours later, for bringing Uncle Giles and Aunt Vera (oh, England hasn't sunk into the sea?) over for a visit.
Her apology (which I don't think she had any business making) prompts him to observe:
It's blow hot, blow cold with you, isn't it?
Um. Pot, Kettle. Kettle, Pot.
But he makes yet more handsome apologies. (Huzzah! The Titanic is turning!) This is beginning to remind me of some lyrics from one of those moody 90s bands Mijnheer van Voorhees used to listen to: If I dig a hole to China, I'd catch the first junk to Soho. Max is digging but he's a not a grudge holder and is quick to retrench.
He asks her to stay another week and also to come to a dance at his house. (A ball! Lots of stories end at a ball!) But Tineke is out in the car so he's got to go.
She sneaks into the party and he finds her by herself on a quiet bench.
'You're shy, aren't you? yourself and all you say and do, is a never-ending delight to me.'
Editorial Note: Yay! He finally gets her. All that teasing about John Austin was a much bigger deal for her than for him. She's stood up to it very well but he's got some ground to regain.
He regains it in an even more secluded parlor (lovely place for a spot of snogging if you don't have a lay-by handy) and she's having the time of her life until Tineke bursts in, crying and babbling in Dutch. Max escorts her from the room and puts some firm RDD arms around her while she cries hysterically into his waistcoat.
Do you blame Sophy for leaving? I don't.
Max practically drags her by her hair back to his house the next day and tries to tell her about Tineke but he's not in a very conciliatory mood to begin with and she isn't either. She rushes in with her version of events which are pretty damning: Your booty-call is a nice woman and she broke us up and I saw you holding her like you cared!
And then she throws the book at him. And by 'the book' I mean she more than implies that he was preying on her because she was just a plain nurse with no money and was, as such, fair game to someone in his position. (Gasp! That's going to leave a mark.)
Even though Max is the only one in the room to know that her version is bunkum, he doesn't leap into the breach with the truth. He's too hurt and his only retaliation is to deny her tea and kiss her cruelly. (But she still probably liked it. I would.)
On her final day in Holland, Tineke comes to Sophy's room. Oh dear, did I do this? Max was covering for me and Professor van Essen who have loved each other for years but were too dirt-stupid to marry each other in the first place. His wife was incurably insane (Honey, is that what the married men are selling these days?) until she died with suspicious convenience on the night of the dance. Max has been letting us carry on at his house every Friday while he plays Canasta!
Sophy, with a bravery not unlike members of Pickett's Charge or that of the fabled Light Brigade, knows she's going to her doom as she lays siege to Max's office. She gets out a very strangled explanation and then runs for it. He so catches her.
The End

Rating: Oh my heck, did I love this. Please forgive the choppy review. There was so much wonderfulness that I had to leave out and I sometimes think that ripping apart a book you loathe is easier than adding anything and doing justice to a book you love.
Sophy is so adorable. It helps to think of her as Charlie Bucket from Willie Wonka. Max is her sweet shop that she looks at longingly but avoids because, well, why torture herself when she can't have him? And then, because she is so good and honest and loving, in the end she gets the factory, the chocolate and all the Oompa-Loompa slave laborers for her very own.
She fibs a ton which is much funner to read than the ladies who are faultless and stoic and if you're looking for a read that has more drama than some of Betty's later work (but less tragedy than, say, The Hasty Marriage) then this would be a perfect read.
Max is no slouch either. He's distracted by L'affair Tineke (Everyone claims that they find it impossible not to like her but, yet, I do--most vilely.) and horribly eaten up with jealousy when Inoffensive Harry enters the scene (which leads to drama and indiscretions). He twits her about John Morris-Austin way too much until finally (FINALLY) figuring out that her shyness is making his overture seem mean instead of teasing. (He does twit her about it again after this discovery but only when in a rage and goaded to it.) He is otherwise chasing her skirt satisfactorily--doing a lot more wooing than I was able to stick in anywhere in the review.
Betty abandons the British family as soon as the protagonists move on to Holland which, given how charming everyone is, is a bummer.
But that doesn't matter because I'm giving it a Lashings of whipped cream with a cherry on top anyway.

Food: She enjoys the 'post-prandial aroma of toasted cheese' (yum), Quiche Lorraine, treacle tart, roast pork, Daisy chicory, Tournedos Benjamin (ordered in honor of her brother), cauliflower cheese, beef (That's it. Just 'beef'.), digestives dispensed with 'a matronly air', coupe Clo-Clo that she orders just for the name and a great deal of italics food.

: A serviceable tweed coat that you want to kick to the curb, an amber Thai silk that sounds gorgeous (if off-the-peg) and gets worn everywhere, a squirrel coat that I find it difficult to imagine as anything less than an outfit-wrecking catastrophe, a lambswool shirtwaister and a jersey shirtwaister. Sophy's Staff nurse shows up at the hospital fire wearing a purple trouser suit and an overpowering fox fur hat.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    I think if I had only read this book once I could agree with the 'lashings of whipped cream' rating. But the more often I re-read it, the less I like it, so I've stopped picking it up.
    I love the first part of the book--The Blot, Bill and Penelope, Sophy the Super theatre sister. Max--all terrific! I almost understand that Sophy is a bit shy and doesn't want to horn in on the family outings with Max (though that's where she really wants to be). But inventing the boyfriend--oh my goodness--showed that her emotional age was stuck at 16. Hmmm, come to think of it-all that schedule shifting was a bit 16-ish as well.
    Anyway, I had some real problems with the whole Tineke sub-plot. And what it reveals about Max's character. He has to know how his weekly rendezvous with Tineke is being interpreted--after all, that's the point of the whole charade. Take suspicion off of younger married doctor's affair with Tineke by looking like you're having a fling with her yourself. Max has to know that Sophy certainly believes he's carrying on, while, at the same time, flirting with her. Just ick!! Ick! Ick!! Ick!!!

    1. Heh!

      ~~(This is Max thinking): But you must know, that he is being noble! And self-sacrificing! And that will make his lovely Sohpy fall madly in love with him, when she finds out!!!

      All based on the usual male BN principle, that the man will dominate and control the outcome of this union, therefore, it really doesn't matter what the heroine thinks...A few kisses and apologies will solve any perterbations as a result of all that secretiveness.

      I noticed that BN uses that principle quite often...

      Betty Francesca

  2. And the story continues:
    "Where are they going, Papa?" had piped up the little ring bearer, four-year-old Tane Maximillan van Oosterwelde, when the bride and groom had gone to the vestry to sign the church register.
    (to be continued)

  3. You didn't like Billope (bil lo pee). Kinda cute, me'thinks.

    Was anybody else thinking Tinky Winky made a poor Jane Eyre substitute? We might have seen her true colors and improved the plot if Minheer Van Essen got caught in the shoulda-been nursing home fire.
    How did his vows to Mrs. Van Essen go -
    For richer or poorer- (Well I'm a RDD so this one is an OK.)
    For better or worse (NOT)
    In sickness or in health (NOT)
    Til death you do part! (PARTY TIME!!!)

    1. I should have got out my red pen earlier. But I did not want to be the one to do this...
      Tineke's "interest" was not Mijnheer van Essen = Professor van Essen (= Adelaide's husband!!!) but Karel van Steen = Mijnheer van Steen.

      Coenraad and Addy, true to their vows, live happily ever after.

  4. I may have mentioned, once or twice, that I'm rather fond of this little volume. Perhaps three times -- once in indelicate all-caps. Maybe more. But here's the thing: I almost completely ignore the Dutch interlude, because it's so peculiar and all that goes before is so marvelous.

    The whole Tineke-and-Max-standing-Friday-night-date-and-everyone-knows-it seems almost deranged. What did Betty expect her readers to think Max and Tineke would think others were thinking? In order that none of their acquaintances believe Tineke is committing indiscretions with Karel, they pretend she's committing them with Max? What on earth sense does that make? Can't they both just volunteer at the orphanage on Fridays, or bump into each other frequently in various hotel lobbies (the kind of hotel lobby, so plentiful in the 60s, where someone will bring you a pot of tea). And why always Friday nights? Huh?

    All that said, I do get the impression that Max, as Betty envisioned him (preux chevalier; or an old-fashioned boy if you like), could have believed that no one would have thought him capable of inappropriate cavorting. He certainly seems to believe Sophy shouldn't have believed it of him. Sucker.

    Also, is Betty telling us that if Karel were Anglican instead of RC, he'd have divorced the madwoman as soon as Tineke held his gaze for the requisite 2-4 seconds, and that would have been fine? 'Cause that doesn't seem to be her usual stance. Maybe the editor added the RC bit, but M&B editors don't typically seem to add or delete much of anything. And it's not like divorce was de rigeur in the late 60s, anyway.

    But the "landscape or escutcheon?" conversation! The frequent quiches and toasted cheeses! The student Robbins gradually becoming a good nurse in response to Sophy's tutelage! The fire, and Staff's purple pant suit and fox-fur hat! Oh, I do love this one. So much.

  5. I had not read this book in quite a while and was greatly diverted while re-reading it. Love this book! Inventing a boyfriend? Georgina Rodman of Damsel in Green did worse - putting on a ring and letting everyone believe she was engaged to be married - that was not cricket. But, hey, think of all the fun conversations we get when Max refers to John Austin ( Perhaps you'll invite me when you're married,' he added slyly. Sophy looked at him appalled, her gentle mouth slightly open. 'Married?' she echoed, stupidly. He raised black brows. 'My dear girl! I hardly imagine that you intend to live in sin, do you?' 'Live in sin—who with?' Ha ha ha!) Changing her off-duty, arranging her off-duty so as to avoid the hero? Done by other heroines as well, sometimes to good effect, sometimes to be swarted.

    The whole Tineke smoke screen was badly thought out by our hero, I grant you. However, Max wanted people to believe that he and Tineke were getting married and I daresay there is nothing wrong with meeting your wife-to-be every Friday night, nothing wrong with your wife-to-be visiting your house every Friday night. (Other RDD/RBD fianceés show up at RDD/RBD homes all the time. No impropriety implied in any of these cases.)

    Mevrouw van der Steen had been insane for nine years.
    And Karel van Steen said he had waited ten years for happiness...Hm?
    Tineke came back to Holland after her husband died...Hm.
    Tineke, Karel and Max have known each other since they were at school together:
     Max is thirty-nine.
     Karel van Steen had a nice face, almost ugly; brown and wrinkled like a monkey's.
     Tineke is a quite beautiful girl, ... Sophy thought she had never seen such a pretty face before, or such vivid blue eyes ... Tineke, in black velvet, looked like a fairy-tale princess.
    How old are the monkey and the Princess?

    For how long has Max played Tineke’s friend?
    And for how many years was Max willing to do this? Because for as long as he did he could not have real girl friend of his own. And since we don’t know what Mevrouw van Steen’s condition was, other than that she was not compos mentis, this might have gone on for much longer...

    One thing that irritates me every time I read this book is a flaw in the time-continuum near the end.
    The fateful party took place on a Saturday.
    Sophy had to work the next day, which was Sunday. In the afternoon, she called him a playboy and was denied her tea.
    On Monday , Max told Sophy that Zuster Smid did not want a holiday after all and that Sophy was to leave the very next day, which would be Tuesday
    And yet, on the day of Sophy’s departure, (Tuesday!!! ), Tineke comes to see her shortly after noon and Sophy says she is sorry for "last night", meaning the night of the party (which had been on Saturday). And then Tineke says they all went to the nursing home "last night", Karel, she and Max, only Max returned earlier to the party to speak with Sophy. And then later when Sophy seeks out Max who is taking a clinic to tell him how she really feels, he, too, refers to last night. – Have I mentioned that this bothers me?

    On the whole, the Tineke bit does not bother me.
    A true Neels needs trials and tribulations!
    I think this is a great story!!!

    1. It came to me this morning, out of the blue. Had I really written swarted? Tsk, tsk.

  6. Max did try to tell to Sophy about "Tineke and ...", and then the phone rang! And the next time, when she was on her way to go out with Tineke and Karel, and Max said he wanted to talk to her, she said, "I'd much rather you didn't tell me. Anyway, I know." - "You know? Who told you?" We don't know how much he was willing to tell her, since it was not his secret, but we cannot blame him for not telling her. He thought she knew. As did Adelaide. Sophy told Adelaide it had been explained to her.

  7. I have to agree with whoever it was said (sorry -- too lazy to scroll back up -- that Sophy was emotionally a lot younger than her age. I realize (as always) that if she'd been able to be more up front this would have been a novella, but someone who seems to be more or less the head of a family, at least from the breadwinning and budgeting side of things, should be a bit more mature. I finished it, but I don't see this one as part of my regular répertoire.

  8. There is so much I love about this book, particularly in the first part. But how could Max NOT know what Sophy was hearing, and how her standards would impact that. Yes, she said it had been explained, but if the true situation was a big secret, then only a very select few could have done the explaining correctly. Only Coenraad seemed to have a sense that things were awry, but by then Sophy was too far gone. Truly demonstrates the saying about assume. When you "ass-u-me," you make an A** (out of) yoU and ME. (Cross posted on Facebook)

  9. So many people love this book, but I just can't get over the fact that she had to apologize to him for judging a situation based on what he and the immensely selfish Tineke wanted people to see. Also, I don't care about how sacred your promise is, if it makes the person who loves you miserable, you need to break that vow of silence.