Monday, September 24, 2012

The End of the Rainbow--Reprise


Never mind the "They're always after me Lucky Charms!  They're magically delicious!" title.  This is one of the few books of The Canon that brought out sharply divided feelings.  Some loved (Betty Debbie), some loathed.  I think it depended on whether your suspension of disbelief was of the industrial-strength bungee cord variety or not and whether you were able to enjoy the scheming hussy's machinations or were more Victorian ("We are not amused.") about them.  It also mattered whether you thought Waldo had potential (corals! three coats! raising his brother's off-spring as his own! propensity to rescue and secretly do adorably involved gestures of love like setting up a nursing home!) or if you thought his track record was poor (secrets! blindness about nannies! off-handedness! rash accusations!) and likely to end in tears.
But I hope we can all agree that naming a mousy Araminta "Olympia" is just about the cutest thing ever.
Love and lardy cakes!
Betty Keira


Oh my stars, I love this book. Poor little Cinderella...er...Olympia. The handsome, genial giant, Waldo. A cavalcade of aunts: the evil aunt, the not-related-but also evil aunt and the good aunt. The sullen step-daughter. Everyone has an their own long con...some work out, some do not. Here's a preview:
Aunt Maria: adopts Olympia as a toddler and cons Olympia into making a promise to be her slave for the rest of her natural life.
Elisabeth: plans to sweet-talk her way into marriage to Waldo, even though in the time he's known her, he's been married twice and had one child. She'll go to any lengths, including destroying Ria, all while conveying an air of sweetness and light.
Waldo: 1. Pretends that Ria is his daughter instead of the ill-conceived child of his younger brother. 2. Marries Olympia to take care of Ria and his household, causing her to trade slavery for a gilded cage. 3. Mysterious London connection.
Olympia: Falls in love with her husband and plans to hide it - forever if she must.

Our story opens with Olympia working as a slave...nurse...at Aunt Maria's nursing home. Aunt Maria runs a tight ship, and Olympia is lashed to the helm. Not only does she work there full-time for peanuts, but she has to work split-shifts and be on call every night. No wonder she's skin and bone. Aunt Maria even has her run errands during her "off" hours. Olympia seems doomed to a life of indentured servitude. The only loophole she has managed to negotiate is that she can quit working at the nursing home if and when she gets married. Like that's ever going to happen. The only people she meets are the geriatric patients and their occasional visitors.
Olympia plays a little hooky during her off hours (I'm not sure that doing what you want during your off hours constitutes hooky, but that's how Aunt Maria would see it...). After buying the first white sheets the salesperson shows her at Selfrdiges, she's off to the National Gallery to have a solitary look at the special exhibition. She's got to hot foot it, so as to return before she turns into a pumpkin...SPLAT! Enter Dr. Waldo van der Graaf - as stunning an example of Rich Dutch Docterness as she's never had the pleasure of seeing before. Olympia has done a face plant right at his feet. Shoot, I never catch a break! Dr. Hotty van der Hunkyness dusts her off and convinces her to stay and see the exhibit with him. After establishing the fact that she's not married. And so it begins.
Waldo (which is so not a name that comes to mind when thinking of hunky RDDs) has a knack for putting our girl at ease. He takes her to tea at Fortnum and Mason's and makes her comfy amongst the Givenchy scarves and crocodile handbags. Comfy enough to spill her life story.
Waldo and Olympia share a taxi back to the nursing home where she is dropped off and he rides off, into the sunset...never to be seen again?
Much to Olympia's surprise, Dr. van der Hunkyness is a friend of dear old Dr. Sims who tows him along to the nursing home a couple of days later. Olympia thinks that he's the nicest man she knows.
Waldo now starts dropping by with delightful regularity. His next visit is on the pretext of needing shopping advice - would Olympia come help him pick out a gift for his daughter? His daughter? Dang, he's married. No, no - his wife died a week or two after Ria was born. A fully kitted out dollhouse is chosen by Olympia - because it's something she would have loved as a child. How bleak was her childhood on Primrose Hill Road. It turns out Waldo has come over from Holland just to see Olympia...to offer her a job? He does have that 5 year old daughter - he must need a nanny. Too bad, that won't fulfill the terms of her servitude with Aunt Maria, it's marriage or nothing. Waldo squires Olympia around London for a couple of weeks, then takes her to visit his Aunt Betsy. A majestic and elegant woman, who endearingly confides that she buys her woolies at Marks and Spencer's too. Aunt Betsy leaves them alone for a few minutes so that Waldo can make an offer. Surprisingly, it's an offer of marriage, not a job offer. Olympia is understandably gobsmacked. This would get her away from her dismal life on Primrose Hill Road, but Olympia has qualms. What about the elderlies? Who will get up during the night and take care of them? Waldo promises to find a nurse to replace her.
Meanwhile, Aunt Maria is getting fed up with Olympia having a gentleman caller and tells Olympia that she's going to revoke dating privileges. Not going to happen. Waldo shows up and spikes her guns. Announces the engagement and the replacement nurse and tells Olympia to run and get packed - they're leaving right away! Aunt Maria has no choice...but she spitefully issues dire predictions before washing her hands of her. Olympia shows her backbone and snaps back. I've been working for years for little more than pocket money! Sadly, it only takes Olympia half an hour to pack up all her worldly possessions.
Waldo is appalled at the pittance Aunt Maria paid Olympia. That's hardly enough to keep you in stockings - or is it tights? No wonder you wear that old tweed suit all the time. Never mind the old tweeds now! Waldo has arranged for Olympia to stay with Aunt Betsy and to accept a new wardrobe (to be picked out at Harrod's). Waldo is taking Olympia out to celebrate, so girlfriend gets herself all gussied up. It's worth the effort - Waldo is not a stingy man when it comes to compliments - you look like a princess in a fairy story. Awww. It's time for some family jewels of the sapphire and diamond variety.
Dr. Sims gives away the bride, then it's off to Holland in Waldo's Lamborghini. Home to daughter Ria. Ria who looks at Olympia with unveiled hostility. This sounds like fun. Waldo gives the obligatory house tour and ends with an impersonal kiss and I hope you'll be very happy here.
Well, gosh...now that you put it that way...yup, it's a dawning realization. Too bad love isn't part of the benefits package. There's really not too much time to reflect on her love, before you can say Jack Robinson, in walks trouble. Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with E and that stands for Elisabeth. Trouble all wrapped up in sweetness and light. Courteous, kind, cheerful, she's just like a sister to Waldo. Okay, that's just creepy...remember, she's playing a long con, it's been going on for years now. Elisabeth just comes off as an incredibly helpful friend. She is always stopping by and offering her services. Ria adores her - she's known her for her entire life. So, Elisabeth gets smiles from Ria while Olympia gets scowls, frowns etc...
Elisabeth has spoiled Ria - so Waldo tells Olympia that it's up to her to help change things. Yeah, that's going to go well - discipline a child who dislikes and distrusts you? Olympia takes it on, but she does hand the little brat...er...darling over to daddy to deal with at times. Good for her.
Things are starting to look up - Waldo wants to have a 'chat' about something...but then Elisabeth barges in...natch.
And now the plot thickens. Or the waters are muddied. Or something. Olympia is just conversant enough in Dutch to answer the phone when it rings. RING! The other party is female, English and has a pretty voice. She'd like to speak to the doctor, but on no account should his wife know about the call. Olympia tells Waldo about the call - but although willing, he'd really rather NOT tell her who the phone caller was. Olympia is rightfully miffed.
In the middle of the night, Olympia draws on her 'on call night nurse' background and hears some suspicious noises coming from Ria's room...it's Ria hurling her dinner. And then hurling again. Waldo and Olympia rush her to the hospital where she is whisked into an operating theatre to have her appendix removed. Little Ria is going to be fine - but what's up with Elisabeth? She assumed that at 1am she should have been called to be in on the drama.
Elisabeth is being a busy bee - giving Olympia helpful hints such as not bothering to knit a sweater for Waldo as he hates hand knitted sweaters. Olympia wisely ignores the advice and buys a boatload of yarn and a pattern. Waldo says there's nothing he'd rather wear, then rewards her with a fierce kiss. Editor's Note: I find Waldo's faith in Olympia's knitting ability quite touching. Frankly he's taking a bit of a gamble here - what if the sweater is hideous?

Back home Waldo takes another mysterious call. Olympia overhears, "Don't telephone here anymore...the risk is too great...I don't want my wife to find out." Wow. Just when she's starting to forget about Mysterious Phone Call from London #1. Mysterious Phone Call #2 is even worse. It's quite upsetting for our gal - and it's no wonder she is a little extra friendly to the housemen at the hospital. Waldo chides her a bit for chatting them up.
While Ria has been in hospital, Olympia has used her sewing skills to make a new outfit for Ria's doll. She puts it on a wee hanger and leaves it by Ria's bed - so she'll see it when she gets home...Imagine Olympia's surprise when Elisabeth gives Ria an identical outfit! Oh, Elisabeth, you dirty rat! Olympia puts it down to a cruel coincidence...surely Elisabeth, dear, sweet, Elisabeth wouldn't do something like that on purpose?
If that isn't enough, Waldo gets Mysterious Phone Call #3 and announces that he is going to London the very next day. Olympia wasn't raised by an emotionally distant aunt for nothin'...she knows full well how to hide her feelings. Waldo sort of offers to tell her why he's going (but he'd rather not), Olympia doesn't want him to tell her. She's imagining all the wrong things...and Waldo is as clueless as he is innocent. In a bit of a non-sequitur, Olympia asks him if he had ever been in love with Elisabeth. Good lord, no!
It's just as well, because Olympia is starting to get a bit suspicious of Elisabeth. Elisabeth not only pulled a fast one with the doll clothes, she also was misleading about the sweater issue and now she gives Olympia another bad piece of advice about spring cleaning. Elisabeth also manages to lurk around the house so as to be at hand when Waldo returns gets back from London. Waldo passes right by her and greets his wife first. He hasn't come back alone...he's hauled Aunt Betsy back too! Yay! Aunt Betsy is no fan of Elisabeth's - and the feeling is mutual. Elisabeth makes herself scarce for a few days. But like a bad penny, she turns up...at Olympia's first dinner party. Yes, she is an invited guest, but had it been me, I would have given her a pat on the back...only with my foot instead of my hand, and a few vertebrae lower. She comes in slightly late and proceeds to tear Olympia to ribbons. In a very 'sweet' way.
*How nice you look in the van der Graaf corals...translation: Those corals should be mine! All mine!
*I thought Waldo was never going to give them to you...translation: If I was married to him, he would have given them to me at the wedding.
*It must be difficult for you, learning our way of life...translation: White Trash!!
*Ria is such a naughty girl not to like you...translation: Loser!
The really unpardonable thing about this whole episode is when Waldo takes dear Elisabeth home after the party because she is upset - she always was a sensitive girl.
Grrrr.
Olympia is so incensed she takes off the van der Graaf corals (why couldn't it have been diamonds...or rubies...or sapphires? Coral just doesn't sound as classy) and gives them back. She obviously isn't worthy of them.
Wouldn't you know it, a Mysterious Letter from London shows up in the morning post. Just what she needs!
Aunt Betsy is driven in some state to Schipol - and Ria throws a monster tantrum on the way home. Being a stepmother is just not getting any better. Ria is still resentful and sullen. Editor: In my experience five year olds just don't have that kind of commitment to a grudge, not that kind of attention span. Of course, Elisabeth is whispering sedition at every opportunity.
Waldo clears up a little misunderstanding...Ria doesn't miss her mom - her mom died when she was only a week or two old. Oh, and by the way, he, Waldo, is not her father. He's never told anyone else...Olympia can see that someone else is listening at the door. Waldo walks out, and in walks...yes, it's Elisabeth. She is all sweetness and light. Just thought I'd drop by and take Ria shopping. We'll only be gone a little while.
The little while turns into a long while...Olympia finally puts in a call to Elisabeth's house. Her mum tells her that Elisabeth has gone...wait for it...wait....she's gone to....BELGIUM!!!!!! As we have demonstrated time and again on TUJD, Nothing good comes of rich Americans, skinny finacees or trips to Belgium. Frankly this is the last we'll see of her...but like a bee who has left it's stinger behind, the poison is still pumping. Elisabeth has told Ria the facts of her parentage and told her to run away. Yes, you heard right...she encouraged a five year old child to run away.
Olympia finds Ria... and then they are found by Waldo...who thinks that it was Olympia who did the dirty deed. Why? Elisabeth's stinger. She slapped on the lies with a thick trowel before high-tailing it to Antwerp.
Now is the hour of Olympia's despair. Ria is finally coming around to liking her stepmom, but Waldo doesn't want the recent unpleasantness mentioned - so he is laboring under the misapprehension that Olympia told Ria and caused her to run away. The big problem for him is that in spite of all this, he loves his wife. There's only one thing to do. Take the family to London. Where Ria blurts out the truth to Aunt Betsy.
Best lines in the book:
Him: I deserve to be shot!
Her: Yes you do!
One more mystery to clear up - who is the mysterious woman with the pretty voice? It's none other than Mrs. Doreen Betts. No longer young, dumpy and married. Say what? Mr. and Mrs. Betts are the new caretakers at the nursing home on Primrose Hill Road. Waldo bought out Aunt Maria (who unfairly gets to retire to a villa in Spain, instead of the Black Hole of Calcutta) and has been improving the nursing home - using all of Olympia's ideas.
And now some kissing -a satisfying and lengthy operation. A gleam in Waldo's eye, implied conjugal relations...The End.
Rating: Gosh, this was great. Waldo is charming. He grins, he smiles, he beams. All at Olympia, and all before he knows he's in love. Olympia is pretty great herself. She has been trod upon by Aunt Maria for so long that you could excuse her if she didn't have a spine...but she does. Her spine gets spinier and spinier throughout the book...natural progression. Elisabeth is deliciously evil...she is described as 'a snake in the grass' which sums her up pretty well. Lashings of Whipped Cream.
Food:
Steamed pudding, Gateau St. Honore, a mug of cocoa, Marmite sandwiches, ratatouille, Charlotte Russe, salmon steaks with herb butter, apple pie twice, turbot decorated with lobster coral?
Fashion: Waldo buys our girl THREE coats: cashmere, velvet and mink! Two-year old tweed suit made of a material that refused to wear out, leather gloves, apricot wooly bought at Marks and Spencer, a brown bow to set in front of her bun of hair, red corduroy shirtwaister.