Monday, December 10, 2012

Romantic Encounter - Reprise

Romantic Encounter is not the first (or last) book in Neeldom that features our fair heroine taking a protracted leave of absence from her regularly scheduled nursing job.  I do find the habit charming and (probably) helpful, but wonder how common a leave of absence like that would be...especially the 'protracted' part. This is not the same as being "unemployed in Greenland" (bonus points if you recognize the quote). I find myself puzzled about Mrs. Napier's actual medical diagnosis/prognosis...and inordinately curious. Anyone care to venture a speculative guess as to mum's possible ailment?
The cover of this book is spot-on--down to the over-used leaf green crepe dress and sweater set. But the title? Gah. Romantic Encounter is not the name for this book. There is no particular encounter that earns the moniker 'romantic'. Lorry accidents aren't romantic. Attempted muggings aren't romantic. Spring cleaning ancient rectories aren't romantic. Flipping to any page at random (as I am doing now) and running my finger down a page willy-nilly would procure a more fitting title. So here I am on page 77 and we've got some contenders: Pressed for Time, Pleasant Plans, Remarkably Neat and Tidy, or Florence, Tartly. Any one of them would fit better.

Florence Napier, 25, has been nursing her mother in the wild out-back of the British mainland for a year. She has other family also but for the purposes of the story, all you need know is that Father is an otherworldly vicar and the boys are nameless ghost-children that mother has made up out of whole cloth due to her protracted mental illness. Everybody humors her and pretends that they're in the garden or at boarding school.
Alexander Fitzgibbon, 36, is a 'chest' surgeon of some sort and offers Florence a job as a nurse in his private practice where he probably overcharges the Sirs and Ladies of the hoi polloi out of their inherited monies in order to finance his more philanthropic concerns. That's trickle-down economics for you...
Alexander is one of those If-I-say-jump-you-say-'How-high?' types and attempts to push Florence into the little cubby hole in his head marked 'Private Practice Nurse'. Florence notices him trying to manage her and begins her mind games posthaste.
'The time we agreed upon?' he asked silkily. 'I should warn you that I frown on unpunctuality.' 'In that case, Mr. Fitzgibbon,' said Florence sweetly, 'why don't you have one of those clocking-in machines installed?'
Alexander has 'lofty moods' and Florence can't pin down precisely why she goes to all the trouble to answer him back (especially as she's pulling down a nice paycheck from him each week) but can't help herself nevertheless. And then he goes and spoils it by showing facets of his personality that have nothing to do with the descriptors: smug, cold, icy, biting, etc.
They amputate a leg of a lorry driver and rescue him from certain death. I suppose that the wrong sort of marriage material would go to pieces and not know what to do with crumbling bricks and assorted industrial debris but Mr. Fitzgibbon is shown to be the right sort of material as he begins chucking bricks over his shoulder and hacking off limbs...ah,...limb. One little one...below the knee. All his most lovely traits are on display (honor, bravery, humor, tact, kindness) but still no dawning realization.
All this bon homie is pushing her dangerously near The Cliffs of Passionate Partiality but Florence is pulled from the brink by the appearance of Eleanor Paton (one 't' in Paton. No relation to the take-no-prisoners WWII general and hardly any resemblance...) who breezes into the surgeon's rooms with all the welcome of an ill-wind.
And there we are on page 57 with the principle dynamic in place. Eleanor is pushy and needy. Alexander continues having moods but generally shows himself to be better than he seems (He has a clinic in the ghetto!) and Florence is increasingly impatient with his impersonal manner. She fetched his coffee and set the cup and saucer down on his desk gently, suppressing a sudden and surprising wish to throw the lot at him. She wasn't sure why...
They eat out together a lot, enjoy lovely conversation and have some mutual dawning realizations which you would be forgiven for thinking might actually matter. They don't matter though. (What?! But they're dawning realizations! It's a straight line from those to the alter!)
She has her actual, unchangeable, I-will-probably-be-a-spinster-forever-now dawning realization some time later while he is eating lunch with her family out in the country. And what do lonely nurses do with unrequited love? They quit their jobs, roll those 401Ks over and find a new job in beautiful, remote New Zealand!
Alexander cheerfully accepts her resignation 'Splendid; nothing could be better, Florence, and you have no need to stay for a month--I'll let you off that. Go at the end of the week...I have been interviewing several likely applicants...'
He also offers to write her a reference. After a cozy gossip with the office secretary about how Eleanor the Cat is getting hitched to some factory owner in the Midlands (with a hairline as thin as his pocketbook is full, I imagine), just like that she's gone.
Because Florence's replacement is 'Mrs. Bates, a widow lady' (not Miss Bates, 36-24-36), you know that it is just a matter of time before he chases Florence down and kisses her shoes off in full view of the village church, store and school.
The End

Rating: This one is a bit of an enigma. I hardly remembered the plot at all in part because nothing huge happens. Sure, there's the bit about the amputation but even that is a very small wave on a very calm sea.
I like it quite well in spite of (because of?) that. The Venerable Neels has tucked little charming observations and real moments here and there throughout this gentle story.
I am a little annoyed by the fact that both of them have two dawning realizations each--it's rather like playing a game of Chutes and Ladders, two steps forward and one step back. But I think it also feels more real than a dramatic bout of measles so I'm not going to fuss too greatly.
It earns a boeuf en croute from me for the delightful chase Florence gives Alexander (The end is gorgeous.). I love how her temperature can be taken by what she's calling him: sir, Mr. Fitzgibbon or Alexander. He's really not as awful as all that (not for very long anyway) and she is peppery without being shrill.

Food: Alex (when he remembers to feed her) gives her the standard hero 'this-soup-hasn't-been-near-a-tin' treatment. Her landlady serves all sorts of wholesome, if uninspired, fare. Sausage rolls, crab mousse, noisettes of lamb, corned beef salad, lettuce and cucumber soup, shepherd's pie, sausages and mash, chicken tartlets (which I need Betty Debbie to knock-off), Rich Tea biscuits, roast, baked potatoes, rhubarb pie, duck with port wine and pink peppercorn sauce, Macaroni cheese, tin of beans and cheese sandwiches.

Fashion: Florence meets Alexander while wearing her spring cleaning clothes--a duster over her hair and a boot lace making a pony tail. She wears a possibly subdued (but probably flirty) French navy jacket and skirt to her interview which sounds like something an up-and-coming State Department drone might wear to a foreign summit before being told that all the lifers wear pant-suits and a grim expression. While working, she notices that some people wear clothes difficult to change into and out of (ie. buttons from neck to waist or assorted drapes and layers). Also, she gets a lot of mileage out of a leaf green crepe dress with a square neck and matching jacket.


  1. Why are the boys "nameless ghost children"? They may not show up all that often but they do have names, Tom and Nicky.

  2. "the Sirs and Ladies of the hoi polloi" Heh??? What does that expression/phrase mean? I daresay those selfsame Sirs and Ladies would not like to be considered part of the hoi polloi.

    1. Doesn't hoi polloi mean "the many" referring to the unwashed masses? Maybe hoity-toity instead, which I really like saying hoity-toity-hoity-toity.....

      B von S

  3. Hey all! My computer was being very sticky with me today and I couldn't post comments (I shall cross my fingers that this works.) But to answer questions...

    1)I think (remember, this was written ages and ages ago when my daily companion was a child I affectionately referred to as The Demon Baby of Bethany and my sleep-addled brain may not be what it once was) that I named them that because The Great Betty skipped over the boys too lightly. I was probably wondering why she cared enough about rounding out Florence's family to give her one but not enough to do anything with them. Then again, maybe I was trying to find a reason for Mama's ailment. The Venerable Neels has spent more time on pet names than she did on these unfortunates. Sometimes in reviews I name characters who actually have names: Uncle MumbleMumbleWhoCares. (The poor things!) This is in that vein.
    2)I could justify myself, I suppose, and say that we all (even Sirs and Ladies) come from 'the many' but I won't. I simply misused the term. It happens. Once I was at the grocery store writing a check (yes, this was years and years ago when I still wrote checks at the grocery store) and was shocked to learn that I had been misspelling the word 'forty' for more than a decade. (Dang it, it should be 'FOURTY'!)

    Anyway, we repost these posts with all their original warts. (I have seen an accidental 'their' when I clearly meant 'they're' and I just cringe. But I accept that my cosmic destiny is stronger than my intellectual pride in that it is much too lazy to go back and fix it.) It puts me more in charity with all these vintage Harlequins that are littered about with grammatical and spelling errors. The bummer is that when Bettys see my digital record, readers can't rub an eraser lightly across the page and fix it as I have sometimes done with an old Mills and Boone. ;0)

    1. Thanks for the explanations. I thought there was something I had missed (regarding the ghost children) or some kind of culture clash (regarding the hoi polloi), that maybe the expression had a different meaning in English.

  4. I vote for mononucleosis. Maybe with a complication that landed mum in the hospital. It would account for mum's weakness and fatigue and taking a year to recover.

    I spent way too much time thinking about it, really.

    1. Or maybe polio, like the villainess in The Five Days of Christmas. She took a long time to recover, too.

  5. "Uncle MumbleMumbleWhoCares" Ha! Still laughing. So grateful to know about the Bettys! Merry Christmas to you all!

    -Betty Joanie

  6. Wondering if it might not be relapsing-remitting MS... Ok for awhile, then not. And the brothers showed up enough to gloat over Alexander's car (with Alexander) and discuss it with Florence.