Monday, December 17, 2012

A Girl to Love--Reprise

Morning, Bettys!
I think my main beef with this book is not that it's bad.  It's more that I find it difficult to put it into any sort of Betty context.  The heroine feels straight out of your standard Betty catalog but the hero is, in Betty Debbie's words, "Not your average Neels hero."
The biggest pill to swallow?  Probably his disengagement as a father.  Add to that, the fact that Sadie is going to have a job of it, whisking the whiskey tumbler out of his hand, tolerating the show biz types that will waft into her life, and quelling his moods.  I can buy, though, that she's awesome enough to pull it off.
The book can be a lot of fun.  So it's not that it's bad.  It's not.  It's just not what I signed up for when I cracked the spine and dipped into my Betty book.
It's a puzzler.
Puzzle away!
Betty Keira
Wow. I didn't remember liking this book - that may be in part to the depressing looking couple on the cover. But oh, my stars and garters, it was fun...and different. Very different. How? Let's dig in.

Sadie Gillard is a fairly typical Araminta. At 23 years old, she is a bit on the youngish side, but she does have mousy hair, plain face and fine eyes, and yes, she's an orphan with no real marketable skills. Grandma has just died and left her with nearly nothing. The charming, but old-fashioned thatched cottaged has to be sold and the best Sadie can hope for is a job as a housekeeper or mother's helper. I know, I know, you're saying, 'Betty Debbie, that is absolutely classic Neels'. Well, yes, but now it gets different.

The house is sold immediately and for full market price (obviously a better economic climate than now) a playwright. You heard me. A playwright. He's probably the oddest hero in Neeldom. What makes him so different? Let me count the ways.

  1. Oliver Trentham has no medical connection whatsoever. None.
  2. Writes screenplays for television. Television.
  3. Long and lean. Lean, not vast.
  4. Has two daughters, ages 5 and 7.
  5. Has only been a widower for about 3 years!
  6. Drives too fast.
  7. Drinks too much.
  8. Employs an abusive governess.
  9. He is rather irascible. Or do I mean explosive?
  10. Works with rather a fast crowd back in London.
Not Betty's usual cup of tea. In fact, on the surface he doesn't sound that appealing. This is not one of those love at first sight stories...for Sadie or Oliver. But that's a good thing. Especially since they spend a few weeks living together unchaperoned. Unchaperoned? Yes, Sadie has stayed on at the quaint thatched cottage as housekeeper - a job she is uniquely qualified for, since she's lived there for the past twenty years.

Sadie is an unlikely looking housekeeper - for one thing she's way younger than Oliver expected, and he's inclined to let her go...until he gets a chance to sample her cooking. Girlfriend can cook. It only takes two meals and he's hooked. Conditionally. The conditions are thus: She must eat meals with him and he'll lug in the coal and logs.

The days pass with Sadie cooking and cleaning, Oliver typing and drinking..and bellowing when he wants something.

Rather than do a detailed synopsis of the rest (hey, I just got back from Hawaii on Tuesday...) I'll just give a few highlights of the rest of the plot.

Miss Murch and The Girls arrive at the Thatched Cottage.
Miss Murch exposed as the wicked liar that she is!!
Christmas Morning on Sadie's Bed.
Sadie Goes to London.
London doesn't agree with Sadie - or the girls.
Oliver takes a trip to GREECE to 'think things over' (leaving Sadie with the girls, who promptly get the flu).
Oliver dates several 'pretty ladies'.
Happily Ever After in a little Thatched Cottage.

Editor's Note: Sadie and Oliver won't have a traditional he ages he will become a 'peppery' old man who is a little too fond of whiskey. Sadie will spend her time cooking nourishing meals that sop up alcohol and replacing his shot glass with cups of cocoa. After a year or two Oliver will stop writing screenplays for love stories and focus on documentaries about plant life and ancient stone-napping techniques - any subject that won't require casting calls for starlets. Sadie will remind Oliver about his parenting responsibilities and tiptoe around the house in felt slippers, shushing the kids, when he's writing. Of course, this is all my opinion. What do you think?

Rating: I wouldn't recommend this book for a 'comfort read'. A Girl to Love is quite an outlier in the Neels canon. That said, I really, really enjoyed it. Perhaps because it's so different. Sometimes I really struggle to get through my 'assigned' reading each week. This week I zipped through it in two hours. That's two hours with notes. Two hours when I should have been packing for Hawaii. Perhaps I was just avoiding chores, but even if I was, it was an enjoyable way to do it. I readily acknowledge that there are many imperfections, but they just didn't fuss me all that much. I think I'll give this one a boeuf en croute.
Food: Queen of Puddings, scones, fruit cake, steak and kidney pudding, mackerel pâté, Welsh rarebit, cocoa for supper to counteract the whiskey, rice pudding - creamy and stuffed with raisins, stuffed celery, sausage rolls, vol-au-vents, cheese straws, Oliver comes home from a date with a vegetarian surfeited with nut cutlets and bean shoots.
Fashion: Two severe nylon overalls which Oliver bans her from wearing, a pair of serviceable felt slippers, green tweed coat and martching skirt and beret, sapphire blue wool dress, sensible pink winceyette nightie, a Christmas gift from Oliver of an amber silk crêpe blouse and matching skirt, a glowing green organza party dress.


  1. A lot of our Neels heroines frequently knock back a fair bit of sherry + wine with dinner. The heroes ask the wives of convenience to pour them a whiskey while they go to change into evening togs and the RDDs often like their jenever and their wine with dinner. In later books they don't drink and drive so much but they do smoke and they smoke in the hospital in sister's office no less. Maybe if Oliver was just a bit more vast he's hold his liquor better!

  2. Irascible? Explosive? Reminds me of Charles Cresswell, our lone historian in the Œuvre, a very long lean man , future spouse of Judith Golightly.

  3. The "pretty lady" crap annoyed me no end.
    Yeah, I said it.

    B von S

  4. With sincere apologies to Betty van den Betsy, who dearly loves this one....


    I thought I hadn't read it until I pestered the Luitenant Kolonel sufficiently to open an early Christmas present (there are a number of paperback-sized packages under our tree) and re-read it. I didn't remember this as being a Betty because of the whole TV producer thing. My copy was returned to the USO as soon as I read it (unlike many USO-sourced Bettys that came home with me in my rucksack).

    I found Oliver so unlikeable. And I didn't like Charles Cresswell all that much, either. Both struck me as self-centered jerks. At least the RDDs with selfish tendencies can be excused because their passion lies in serving humanity. Perhaps it is that service to humanity that makes their preoccupation tolerable; it is a very good thing, IMHO, that The Great Betty usually stuck to doctors.

    1. Oh, I wholeheartedly agree. Ick. For me, this one ranks at the bottom of the list. I don't remember another one where the hero drinks like a fish and she's busy moving the whiskey decanters to the other side of the room. And he proclaims that he wants to drink himself insensible. Double Ick. He certainly doesn't seem very Neels-hero-like at the beginning -- seems very ill-at-ease with his children and certainly ignorant about their day-to-day lives, and didn't seem to mind either. He did pretty much redeem himself, but still, too little, too late, for me to like this book. Sadie, however, was great, the only reason why this doesn't get a Tinned Soup rating. Maybe Beans on Toast, but only because of her.

      And I had just recently read Judith, another one which wasn't my favorite. I'm glad she only wrote a couple where they weren't doctors.

      A Girl to Love is also different, because neither one of them were attached in any way to the medical profession. Other than the doctor who comes when the girls have the flu, there's no medical connection at all. Quite different from the rest of the canon. Good thing most of the heroes are RDDs or REDs -- I like those immensely better than the non-doctors ones I've read recently.

    2. Oliver Trentham. Hm. Well. I thought, no, better make that present tense, I think that the Great Betty was being or trying to be realistic, as far as Oliver Trentham was concerned, especially in view of his profession. If one heard that kind of thing - mostly absentee parent who is ill-at-ease around his children - being said about a real person, widowed tv screen writer or anyone in the television/film industry, would one be surprised to hear that he spent most of his time with the in-crowd and not with his family? And I am sure there are a lot of single widowed parents out there who don't know how to deal and act with their children when their spouse, the homemaker, who took care of that part of life, is no longer there. Of course, in Oliver's case his wife was not even that. I think Oliver Trentham's explanation about his feelings and the reason for his absence sounds plausible. And I like the way he becomes more and more the kind of family man we expect a Neels hero to be.

      And alcohol and the television/film industry...
      'nough said. Very realistic, I think.

  5. I don't remember reading this one. I like lean men (in theory at least), I'd better set about trying to find this.

  6. Oh I always always liked this one and do come back to it frequently for a comfort read.

    And the reason is, darling Sadie!!!

    She is so worth reading about. What a wonderful work ethic! She inspires me! Everytime I feel a bit under the weather and do not feel like doing me chores, I think of dear Sadie, working her fingers to the bone as a full-time live-in housekeeper. I do not know how she did it with barely any free time to herself. Perhaps she didn't have any hobbies that required computers and reading. She was much more practical than I ever could be; being so satisfied with the practical realities of daily life. Good for her! I almost envy her. To enjoy the round of daily housekeeping day in day out without wishing for more!!!!! That is life! Although, I do know now that when one does something really really well, it does become very enjoyable! Therefore, a toast, to our Miss Sadie on Christmas Eve! May we all enjoy housekeeping one day as much as she does! Amen!

    Betty Francesca

  7. Oh, I just love this one! I love Sadie. She works so hard and does such an excellent job with the two girls. I enjoy seeing Oliver remember that the simple things in life (strawberry jam, porridge, hot water bottles, ...) are quite nice and watching him change from the celebrity type to the real man and father again. Lovely story. I have it in my top 15.

    Betty AnoninTX

  8. I loved this book. What a nice change from the RDDs and holland! First of all this was so real!!! Kinda made the hero likeable and real because of all his faults. Her heros are usually perfect paragons of humanity. Secondly, lovvvvved Sadie.and thirdly, Olivers feelings are clearer in their conversations. I'm so used to reading about their proclamations of love when there's a page left in the book.

  9. I love this one. Reminds me of the Sound of Music and even Jane Eyre.

  10. Wow, it's so different from how I remembered it when I read it years ago. I thought it was one of the books that put me into self-imposed Betty exile, but aside from a few "mocking smiles that she so disliked" there wasn't a silky suave hooded glance in the book. Just a few gleams in his eye. He actually seemed...nice. Ok, he bellowed, but he never got noticeably drunk or behaved badly because of his drinking, he treated her very nicely--I was impressed that he was sufficiently concerned about the potential harm to her reputation that he spoke to the lawyer [?] about their living arrangements. (There's a thesis in here somewhere about Betty's subtle pushing of living together chastely before marriage, to ensure a happy union). He helped out, he was never nasty, he quickly developed a nice relationship with his kids, he frequently expressed remorse about hiring Mrs. Murch, he talked to Sadie like an adult about his past and his present, he gave her many straight-out compliments. He bought a dishwasher and a washing machine for her! He cleaned up after the party!!! (Hello, that's what the locals are for, hire help!) It was nice that he'd spoken to his sister about his feelings for Sadie. And Sadie realized that "even when he was an old man stomping around bellowing at everyone" [paraphrase] he'd still be really nice underneath.
    I also liked that she got him a relevant, well-considered present; so many of the heroines don't get the hero anything (there was one who bought the hero a first edition of a book, that really impressed him--and me).
    "They'd better not call _me_ madam!"
    I didn't like the last line so much, though, but there are a few books that have offputting lines, I steel myself to ignore them. (Sam calls Polly "my pretty"--and her little dog, too? Yuck) Also, yeah, she nursed two cranky kids through the flu, WITH ONLY 3 OTHER ADULTS TO HELP HER OUT. Oh, please. Also I was surprised she didn't offer to help Mrs. Woolsey[?] make the canapes for the second party, she was so good at cooking.

    B. Baersma

    1. What a lovely comment! ❤️ Thank you, Betty Baersma. I really like the hero and I like tha fact that you know his feelings and intentions long before Sadie does.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I really enjoyed this one--a very different sort of hero for a classic Neels heroine. So many good comments here; I too loved how Oliver rediscovers the simple pleasures of life because of Sadie and becomes a real father to his children. Really wonderful. His flaws just made him more likeable--some of Betty's heroes, especially in the later books, are a bit too placid and perfect. Couple of things really struck me: first, Oliver's sister seems a model for what their life can be: she may be Lady So-and-So with a stately home and a villa in Cannes, but she lives in comfortable disarray with a pack of kids and dogs, a hallway cluttered with boots and sports equipment, and an untidy sitting room, all very happily down to earth despite the obviously posh lifestyle. Second: Sadie reads the Grimm Bros "Spindle, Shutter, and Needle" to the kiddos and AGtL is such a retelling of that tale! In the end, the girl who is both richest and poorest truly does get the prince.