Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, February 4th.
Winter Wedding
Seconal Twins, Middle Eastern Prison, Hocked Locket!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dearest Eulalia--Reprise




Good morning, charming Bettys!
I think that my favorite part of this book is the whole idea that an eminent medical professional could be so thoroughly (and irrevocably) poleaxed by a 'canteen' lady.  In my mind, I strip the hard reality of florescent lights and hair nets from the word 'canteen' and playfully insert those straight-from-Hollywood, leggy USO starlets who 'worked' at passing donuts to GI Joes during the late unpleasantness.  
There now, the image doesn't even have a speaking acquaintance with tinned green beans and soggy casseroles.
Happy reading!
Betty Keira


Her name might be Eulalia, but she really gets called 'Lally' - couple that with a last name of Langley...Lally Langley sounds like a woman of dubious reputation...but that's not our girl. The worst that can be said of Lally Langley is that she is a 'canteen lady' and she spends an inordinate amount of time deceiving her arthritic grandfather about their actual living conditions. Grandfather is quite crippled and confined to his room. The house is rather grand, but grandpa has very little money. He can't sell the house or furnishings...some kind of legal twaddle prevents him. So there they are living in a large, lovely home that they can't afford to heat. Grandpa doesn't know the extent of Lally's loving deceptions. He's stuck in his room while Lally and housekeeper Jane conspire to help him live in the style he is accustomed to, while they eat mince in the kitchen and bake their own bread to save money. What money they do have comes from Lally's job at the hospital canteen. Enough to pay for one helping of lamb cutlets, but not for three.
The story opens with Mr. Aderik van der Leurs spotting our girl walking across the hospital entry. He falls for her like a ton of bricks. Here he is, age 38 and heart whole...there she is, the girl of his dreams. The rest of the book is a lovely little playbook:

"How to Get the Love of Your Life to Love You in Thirteen Simple Steps"

Step One. Insinuate yourself into her life. Aderik is able to dredge up a connection between his own father and Colonel Langley. Just enough to get him in the door.
Step Two. Make yourself useful. Aderik is just as handy with a spanner as he is with a with a stethoscope. Nothing says 'I love you', like fixing a girl's washing machine.
Step Three. Declare your intentions to her nearest and dearest. Aderik confides in grandpa that he is in love with Eulalia and plans to marry her. The Colonel gives his blessing.
Step Four. Propose. Sure, she won't accept the first proposal, but it is the thin edge of the wedge. A proposal always gets a girl thinking about matrimony.
Step Five. Travel to Albania. This will introduce a feeling of concern on her part - Albania sounds vaguely menacing...also 'absence makes the heart grow fonder', right?
Step Six. Fast talk her into a Marriage of Convenience. The Colonel passed away while Aderik was in Albania, leaving poor Lally without a home of her own, and only her salary as canteen lady to live on. Convince her that "love can come later". Promise to make her happy.
Step Seven. Special License. Marry in haste, get her to fall in love at leisure. No Dutch relations to clutter up the happy event, just one cross-over character as best man ( Jules der Huizma from Discovering Daisy), Jane and Lally's cousins who have inherited Grandpa's house.
Step Eight. Buy her a cashmere Coat 'O Love. Aderik then leaves a large bundle of money for Lally to purchase an entirely new (and suitable for a consultants wife) wardrobe.
Step Nine. If you love her, let her make her own mistakes. An icky anaesthesiologist invites her to see his etchings...I mean, takes her to a museum and then makes improper advances. She shuts him right down and then tells Aderik about the skunk.
Step Ten. Present an engagement ring and a kiss. A slow kiss. Lally likes it...enough to kiss him back.
Step Eleven. Adopt a Kitten and/or give your wife a wedding gift of a pearl necklace. Any excuse for a kiss. Or two.
Step Twelve. Be in the Hospital when there's an explosion. This is always a sure-fire way of nudging a girl into a Dawning Realization and perhaps an actual declaration of love. As soon as Lally hears of the explosion, she's off to the hospital like a shot.
Step Thirteen. Kiss. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ignore firefighters, doctors, nurses and any other bystanders.

Rating: A lovely and quick read. I really only have one little quibble with it. I don't get why a recently married woman would go out, alone, with the anaesthesiologist. Besides that, it's an adorable book. Aderik is never mean - he always keeps his eye on the prize - the prize being Eulalia's love. Sure he's a little devious, but it's all for a good cause. Lally feels completely at ease with him and totally at home in Amsterdam. He knows she's on the right track, all he needs is patience. He initially tells her that they can marry first then get to know each other...love can come later, if she wishes it. He never pushes her, but he doesn't just leave it there...he takes steps. Once she is comfortable at one level, he gradually takes it up a notch. Nothing is ever forced. Eulalia is pretty fun too. She goes along with everything while remaining charmingly oblivious (she beams at him on a regular basis). She then starts to get a bit fractious...there's something she just can't quite put her finger on...an itch she can't scratch...what is it? Oh, yeah, it's love. Queen of Puddings!
Fashion: She was 'wrapped in a garment which he supposed was a dressing gown, cut apparently with a knife and fork out of a sack.' Wedding outfit consists of a grey wool coat with matching crêpe dress and a little velvet hat. Darling pink ballgown, Burberry and matching rain hat, new pink dressing gown.

Food: Toad-in-the-hole, breast of chicken for the Colonel, macaroni cheese for Jane and herself, Bath Oliver biscuits, shepherds pie, enough lobster dishes to make the poor crustaceans an endangered species, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, a trifle to put to shame any other trifle.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, January 28th
Dearest Eulalia
Canteen lady, Marriage of Convenience, hospital explosion.

Monday, January 21, 2013

An Ordinary Girl - Reprise

Oyster dupioni silk...completely custom pattern. Handcrafted by Betty Keira...with figurative handholding, and not so figurative advice and instruction by Betty Debbie. Fly free, little bird, fly free.
I just got back from a quick trip down to Portland (a weekend with Betty Keira and our dad - can construction projects and sewing be far behind? No. No, they can't). I had thrown a couple of Neels in my bag for reading along the way. Unfortunately, An Ordinary Girl was not one of them, but I did have a lovely time re-reading Discovering Daisy. The two books do have something in common.  They both feature a hero that is already engaged to an unfeeling sociopath. Both heroes fall deeply in love and then have a moral dilemma. I love both books, but let's talk about Discovering Daisy.  Oh my goodness, I love that book!  It's not that it's the best one in the cannon - it will never be able to rise to the heights of, say, Cassandra by Chance or Caroline's Waterloo, but I just adore it anyway.  Watching Jules navigate his way out of the treacherous shoals of his ill-advised engagement to Helene because he is head-over-flipping-heels in love with Daisy was so much fun!


My one Very Small Quibble about this book is that it is slapped into a two-fer called The Engagement Effect with a non-Neels author. The name has nothing to do with either story and must have been chosen strictly on alliterative merits. That's okay, though, because the hero depicted on the cover is pretty hunky in a business-casual sort of way and you stop noticing the title pretty quickly... Also, mine is in large print which I adore. Here's my review, ripped from the fevered scribblings of our over-wrought villainess:

Dear Diary,
I had a simply ghastly time at that engagement party out in the wilds over the weekend. James got lost (which is so unlike him!) and we ended up detouring through this poky little village in the back of beyond. I didn't mind being lost--personally the last engagement party I eked any amount of fun out of was our own...but then, being the center of attention is always more agreeable than being the 'So-and-so and guest' on someone's invitation list.
So there we were in the middle of nowhere when James stops and asks for directions. This perfectly wretched-looking rustic leaned into the car and dumped her shopping on my lap (Sausages!) and poked her red, chapped hands at the map and then had a moment with MY FIANCE!
Don't ask me to explain it. I don't even know if it happened but they both sort of looked up at each other and suddenly the lyrics of 'Some Enchanted Evening' are blaring through my brain and I'm imagining all his fabulous millions slipping through my fingers. And then he said, 'I shall remember' in what I privately term his Lion King tone. I don't know what to make of it.
No matter. We shan't see her again,
Sybil

Dear Diary,
That horrible blight on the English countryside (Nether Waddle, Nether Ducky...Nether Ditchling!--they ought to petition the Council to get that changed) ruined another perfectly unexceptional day. I (and by I, I mean James) had to run a wedding present down to Coralie's house and it's not as though James was doing anything fun anyway--just those awful paediatric cases--common ones, too. I tell him over and over again that he should restrict himself a bit he's not ready to listen. I'm putting it on my To Be Changed list for after the wedding. What with all his home furnishings, cook and rather stodgy taste in neck ties, that list is getting long...
We got caught in the snow (It's almost April! How was I to know?) and were forced to lay up at the Vicarage--you know, one of those drafty old monstrosities built when having babies was what you did for a living. That Rustic was there--the one with the sausages. They call her Philly and she isn't even that young. She looked worse than I remembered, all swathed in snow gear--I'm sure I imagined that thing that I thought I saw...
And then they made us have porridge for breakfast. (Gah! Poor people food!) Strangely, James didn't look very happy to leave--shoveling show was probably a serious cardio workout...I wouldn't know, I didn't touch the stuff.
I think I'm going to make him sell his country cottage. That's going on the List too. And get rid of his old Nanny who caretakes it. That's going on the List too! And his icky dog...
Sybil

Dear Diary,
He slowed down, I swear it.
We were driving out to Coralie's wedding and you know how James always tears up the road (in the best possible taste, of course). Well, we were coming through the village and he slowed down (well you have to a bit, naturally, but NOT THAT MUCH) and his eyes...he looked like one of those Sunday rubber-neckers! We picked up Philly (who looked plain (doesn't she always?)) who had to babysit for the family. I was so glad to be wearing a simply magnificent hat and outfit--Coralie was livid with jealousy!
We took Philly home later and the car reeked of barf and baby powder. She looked like the hired help. Of course James couldn't help but compare us...
Ah well, I can brush my hands of that problem!
Sybil

Dear Diary,
What!? Are they handing our charitable scholarships now for country bumpkins to visit London?!--and not just any London, my London! Little Miss Direct and Demure was at that china exhibition I dragged James to. I was wearing one of my best suits--the slinky one with the plunging back (I can tell James loves it--he doesn't know where to look first!)--when I saw her reading the placard next to some porcelain.
Reading it!
A girlfriend told me that he offered Philly a ride after handing me some excuse about paediatric thrombo...blahblahblah...
What is going on?
Sybil

Dear Diary,
There was a village fete. No, not in London! At that beastly place in the hinterlands and Coralie (who has been wanting to get back at me for outshining her at her wedding, I swear) rung me up (on the pretense of asking me the name of my milliner) and told me that her postman told her cook who then told her that James showed up to it with his Nanny and spent the whole time mooning about after Philly the Charming Provincial and her homespun attractions. He manned the bran bucket (???) and drank beer and grinned like a yokel the entire day.
I am thoroughly put out and have coerced my creepy little cousin to do a spot of 'Love's Young Dream' blighting. He is to hang around in the village and attempt to woo Philly (though who knows what will work on her bucolic sensibilities). I'll drive James by at just the right time...and bingo! I'll be Mrs. Professor James Forsyth by summer.
Sybil

Dear Diary,
It didn't work.
But it's okay. I'm pretty philosophical about it now.
They got married, like, the week after I changed my Facebook status to 'single'. Whatevs. Everybody is talking about it and I just want to shout at them, 'But she couldn't carry off a flowered lime green hat, now could she?!'...I have jumped back into the dating pool and am on the verge of landing an American oil tycoon named Billy Bob William. We just have to get him past his physical and mental health screening and then we sign the pre-nup! Cross your fingers he doesn't need any defibrillation! LOL He's just the sort of man to appreciate a girl like me. His kids are kind of being pills...
I saw Philly and James driving out to the country (shudder) the other day and wanted to siphon their gas tank but they'd probably end by hopping on a bicycle built for two and peddling into the sunset. Ick.
The moral of the story is to not to let yourself be swept off your feet by blue eyes, glossy black hair, youth and original teeth.
Sybil

Rating: I kept getting interrupted while reading this (mostly by a two-year-old whose body is somehow made entirely out of elbows and knees) so the short and wonderful read took longer than it should. Holy Hanna, I loved this one! For the children's village fete alone it deserves lashings of whipped cream--it's a lovely golden day. But then toss in truly hiss-worthy villains, getting our hero's perspective a ton, and the kind of I-love-you-but-can't-tell-you-so-we'll-just-devour-each-other-with-our-eyes-like-the-principles-in-a-cheap-Mexican-novella heat that is just what the doctor ordered...Fab.U.Los.
James is one of those heroes who is going to spend every day of his life getting on his knees and thanking the good Lord for getting lost in Nether Ditchling. I will whet your appetite with the moment that the bottom drops out of his life: He...watched her coming along the wide corridor to the ward. He saw her cheerful face too, damping down a strong feeling that he wanted to go and meet her and wrap his arms around her and tell her how beautiful she was.
And that's not even the best part.

Food:Braised steak casserole, sausages (that get dumped in Sybil's lap), egg custard, stewed beef and dumplings, porridge, bacon and egg pie with a thick potato crust to disguise the too few eggs for too many people, pork roast and applesauce, egg sandwiches, macaroni cheese and (on their halcyon day) cheese, pickles, rolls and beer.

Fashion: She is 'extinguished' by a long cape to keep out the snow, he wears her father's old sweater and wellies to dig a path to the chickens, he wants to scoop her up and tell her how gorgeous she is while she's wearing a too-large short jacket and last year's tweed skirt. He wears a morning coat and top hat to a wedding, Sybil wears colorfully atrocious headwear (that seems to underline all her worst qualities (vanity, selfishness, poor taste, etc...)) comprising green straw, an enormous brim and a multi-colored flowered crown, and Philly is garbed in a simply cut blue dress that gets baby barf on it. Also, Susan's parents give Philly a T-shirt emblazoned with American logos that she doesn't feel would go over well in the village (which is a shame, really, because this American would love that village to pieces).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, January 21st
An Ordinary Girl

Engaged hero, epic wedding hat, village fete.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Fateful Bargain--Reprise

Morning Bettys!
I read through the old comments section of the original The Fateful Bargain post as well as the Discussion Thread.  Much hay is made over smoking in the hospital (options now include being prescribed nicotine patches, hauling yourself to a designated smoking area (suitably in the nether reaches of the empire, I suppose) or sneaking a smoke in the bathroom).
Much is also made of the fact that the hero's little sister has a touch of polio (in the developed world in 1989, which I didn't even know was a thing).  The eradication (well, pretty much) of polio does not mean the eradication of maternal anxiety attending childhood illness. The Four Little Pledges of  Huis Van Voorhees have all been to preschool (Mama Voorhees loves her some preschool.) and that's when the worry seems to crest.  Chicken pox, Fifth's Disease, the nasty flu, molluscum, norovirus...Each is duly noted and posted (and Googled).  It's the price one pays for sending children off to school when they are still prone to put everything in their mouth.
Of course, polio is a fish of a different stripe altogether.
God bless Jonas Salk.
Love and Lardy cakes!
Betty Keira
I thought I had a bigger problem with the questionable medical ethics involved in The Fateful Bargain, but frankly it didn't bother me. If I was in Emily's shoes I would have jumped at the chance for my dad to get off the National Health Carousel of Depression and Pain even if it did mean a couple of months babysitting a sulky teenager. Cheap at the price.
Emily Grenfell, age 23, is a second year nursing student. She runs full tilt into a handsome stranger on her way home from working the night shift. She confides in the stranger that she's afraid to meet the visiting honorary, a Dutch surgeon, because a French honorary yelled at her and she's a bit gun shy of foreign doctors. The very next day Mr. van Tecqx (I do apologize...that's his name - Emily does not call him anything different until The.Very.Last.Page.) takes a detour in the hospital just so as to get a glimpse at Emily. Sweet, right?
Emily sees Mr. van Tecqx on the Orthopaedic Ward - as he's doing rounds. He later tells her that it's difficult to pretend he doesn't see her. Mr. van Tecqx asks Emily out - so that they can exchange life histories. She's not quite sure what to make of that, so she has a go at sneaking out the side door - only to find him waiting. "I am much encouraged to find that we think alike - you, that you would escape by this door, and I quite certain of it."
He also does a bit of sleuthing and discovers the sad truth about Mr. Grenfell. The fact that he is crippled with arthritis and in great need of hip replacement surgery, but nowhere near the top of the waiting list. In fact, it's going to take Emily at least another year to save up enough to get him admitted to a private hospital. "This is National Health?" says Mr. van Tecqx...in a rather minimalist scathing indictment.
The stage is now set for....The Fateful Bargain. Orthopaedic surgeon Mr. van Tecqx will replace both of daddy's hips in return for Emily traveling to Holland to babysit/nurse Mr. van Tecqx's nineteen year old sister - who is recovering from a mild case of POLIO (in 1989!!????). The bargain should take a few months to accomplish - hips are to be replaced one at a time and little sister Lucilla needs to start walking. It will only take Dr. van Tecqx a few hours for the hip surgeries...but it will take Emily many grindingly long weeks of physio and cajoling to get the sulky Lucilla up and about.
Delft turns out to be Mr. van Tecqx's home town, but Emily doesn't get a lot of opportunity to go sightseeing - at least not at first. Mr. van Tecqx has thrown her in at the deep end and neglected to any arranged time off. That's par for the Neels course...Lucilla is spoiled and inclined to be lazy, sulky and tantrum throwing. Lovely personality. Lovely person to work with. I have to give credit Lucilla some credit - she may be a pill, but she's never deliberately mean (which is an encouraging sign in a potential future in-law).
As soon as Emily gets Lucilla tucked into bed, Mr. van Tecqx hauls her to HIS MOTHER'S HOUSE! It's late, Emily's tired, and as plain as plain can be...but what's a girl to do? Mama van Tecqx may be dressed elegantly, but she's just as plain as Emily...Editor's Note: And now I can't get these lyrics out of my head:
I want a girl
Just like the girl who married dear old Dad.
She was a pearl
And the only girl that Daddy ever had;
A real old fashioned girl with heart so true,
One who loves nobody else but you,
Oh I want a girl
Just like the girl that married dear old Dad.

Not a lot happens in Delft. Emily spends her days, her looong days, working with Lucilla. Showering her, dressing her, reading to her, exercising her, suffering through her tantrums. Mr. van Tecqx comes back from where ever it was he had gone - just in time for Sint Nicolaas! The entire van Tecqx clan comes to celebrate - and enjoys watching Sebastian (Mr. van Tecqx) watch Emily. Yes, his family sees which way the wind is blowing, but they're pretty good at keeping their own counsel. Mr. van Tecqx takes Emily for a walk in the evening - in the cold - her first glimpse of the city. This is the first of many lecture tours of the city...all sorts of interesting nuggets of historical significance are bandied about...but hardly romantic. Nevertheless, Mr. van Tecqx plants a kiss on Emily, much to her consternation.
Emily helps Lucilla scoot down the stairs on her bum. Editor: Which brings to mind a Hanna Betty brother who is crippled with cerebral palsy - his method on the stairs is to go down on his stomach, head first at a rather good clip.
Mr. van Tecqx brings his houseman home to flirt with Lucilla. The houseman is just what the doctor ordered - he gives Lucilla a reason to work on getting better. And a reason to discuss the 'L' word with Emily. Love. Lucilla has fallen in love at first sight. Do you believe in love at first sight, Emily? Sure. Have you ever been in love? Dawning Realization! Dawning Realization! She can't admit it to Lucilla, but by golly, she's in love with Mr. van Tecqx (no, she doesn't call him Sebastian - even in her thoughts).
To Catch a Thief!
Emily sees a suspicious stranger casing the house one night. Instead of calling the local gendarmes, she goes outside and taps the thug on the shoulder - which earns her a black eye, but not before she bites him and kicks him in the shins. Heavens, if she'd kicked a little higher she might not have gotten the black eye. Mr. van Tecqx hears her scream and shows up in time to wallop the miscreant.
Mama van Tecqx stops by to visit - to check up on Emily and her shiner. I forgive her for being secretly smug. It's adorable.
The holidays are coming up fast...Mr. van Tecqx gives Emily a fur scarf for Christmas...much better than the impersonal leather photo frame she gives him.
Back to England - it's time for Dad's second surgery. Emily cries herself to sleep on the ferry. Mr. van Tecqx conceals a grin? Emily has fulfilled her part of The Bargain, now Mr. van Tecqx will finish up his part.
Story of 1st wife. Oh, did I forget to mention he's a widower? Yes, ten years previously (when Mr. van Tecqx was a lad of 24), he married a flibbertigibbet who left him for a rich American with poor driving skills. By the way Emily, I would like to talk to you after the operation.

Now that Mr. van Tecqx is done with his portion of The Bargain, he can finally declare his Love. He's really pretty adorable -
Him: I fell in love when I first met you.
Her: You could have said!
Him: I've had a hard time keeping my hands off you (thank you, Betty!).
Old Man (walking by): Give 'er a kiss, guv.
Him: Marry me? Say yes, darling.
Her: Yes, darling.
The End.
Rating: In the words of the late Douglas Adams, 'Mostly Harmless'. The Fateful Bargain is generally non-offensive. It would have been much improved with a bit more give and take between the protagonists...and a little less Lucilla. A dive into a canal to rescue a puppy with Emily being sick on Sebastian's shoes might have just done the trick. Mr. van Tecqx is occasionally adorable, but prone to lack of communication - I will give him a pass on that, seeing as how he was in a quasi business arrangement with Emily. Emily is sensible and reasonable, she does give way to bouts of tears, but only when it's reasonable to do so. Baby sister Lucilla is a pill - inclined to be difficult and sulky (although not downright mean). Mama van Tecqx is cute as a button - but we don't see quite enough of her. The 'other woman' is pretty much a non-starter...she is only around a couple of times to dispense rudeness. That sort of sums up the book for me - lots of potential that isn't quite developed enough. I still liked the book for an occasional re-read. Average. That's the word I'm looking for. Average. I'm giving it a treacle tart on the strength of the ending, but I totally get it if you think it's worth more...or less.
Fashion: Besides some depressing overalls, girlfriend has a sum total of two (2!!!) dresses. A navy needlecord and a grey wool jersey, both from C & A's last sale. She manages to tart up the grey one for Christmas by purchasing a rose coloured scarf and matching imitation leather belt and grey velvet slippers.
Food: Salmon mousse in a bed of lettuce, breast of chicken in aspic glaze, nougat glacé with strawberries and topped with cream, a can of beans, scrambled eggs on toast, speculaas, chicken soup with hot rolls, grilled trout with pepper sauce and light as air castle puddings.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Name That Book!



Conquering the Champs Elysees

  I have been reading a boatload of Betty Neels this past week and came across this line:
 
…she walked as though she intended to conquer the world…  

This statement has become my motto for the year.  

I may have to embroider it on a pillow or something. 

Anywho...

I thought it might be fun for us to share some of our favorite Neels-isms - and let the other Bettys try and guess which book the quote/line/saying/whatever is from. 

Go! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, January 14th.
The Fateful Bargain
Questionable medical ethics, hero's sister recovering from polio and dad needs a double hip replacement!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Winter of Change - Reprise

This is a tough one for me.  I really don't like Winter of Change.  Really.  If I had a list of least favorite Neels,this would be at the top...er...bottom (??) of that list.  Let me list the reasons why:
  1. Fabian is about 18 years older than Mary Jane.  I might be wrong, but I think that's about the largest age difference in the cannon.  And Mary Jane often acts/sounds younger than her age. 
  2. Winter just seems to go on and on...sort of like Groundhog Day, but with more dying.
  3. Cousin Mervyn from Winnipeg.  We're supposed to dislike him, which is fine...but for me, he tinges the air with a slight whiff of Gothic romance.I actually think it's pretty funny that he's from Winnipeg...as if that would make him sinister.  It's Winnipeg, for goodness sake.
  4. Fabian. Not of fan of the Fabian (especially his brand of grief management).
Is there anyone out there that likes Winter of Change?  I do kind of dig the cover - I could see that couple getting together...too bad the girl is nothing like I imagine Mary Jane to be like.
-Betty Debbie
 

Betty Barbara here--again--- Just finished a re-read of Winter of Change. Hrumph--I shall save my comments until we reach the review. I will say it is one of the few Betty books that I have hurled across the room.

This was exactly how I felt about it the first time I read it. No hard feelings, Betty. I still love you. Still, I should probably prepare you for a slightly more favorable re-read on my part. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I worked mightily to root out every kernel of charm planted therein. Let's see if that gets us anywhere...

Mary Jane Pettigrew, 22, is plain, has 'rabbity' teeth and supports herself on her own meagre earnings. She is a 'good' nurse--the kind who makes patients comfortable and pettily tyrannical Ward Sisters grind their teeth.
Upon receiving an urgent phone call, she rushes home to her grandfather--her only living relative. He's dying. It says much for the state of their relationship that she wasn't notified of his illness or his plans for her inheritance and is told summarily that she is to get a guardian (at her age!) along with the house and his fortune.
Grandfather is one of those throw-backs who scouted high and low for a near-ish male relative (his cousin or cousin's son or cousin's grandson...if they could find him anywhere) to leave the family estate to but finally settles everything on Mary Jane with the legal rider that, quote, (let's see...paragraph 3, section 7, addendum 14) 'She isn't to worry her pretty little head...' (I kid--but only a very little.)
Professor Jonkheer Fabian van der Blocq, 40 (40! Four-oh.), sweeps up to the family home. Upon his arrival he is greeted happily by Grandfather (clearly a relationship of long standing) and his presence underlines in every way that Mary Jane is not, nor has ever been, a substantive part of Grandfather's life.
Editorial Note:
It's really sad. They love each other but being around Grandfather is like warmly hugging a block of granite. Sure you can do it, but why would you want to?
Oh, and have I mentioned that everyone kindly points out at every possible moment that Mary Jane is tiresome and/or as plain as a pikestaff?
For his part, Fabian is really terrible--he's patronizing and (usually the kiss of death for a Neels character) POMPOUS and has no patience for a young girl who is losing her last relative. As for accepting the guardianship? I was only a few pages into this arrangement before I was mentally composing a 'Do-you-want-to-know-where-you-can-stick-this-inheritance?' speech. I kept hoping she would do it. (She's a State Certified Nurse! The world is her oyster!)
And then Grandfather dies. Fabian arranges the funeral and hugs Mary Jane. Wow. I am overwhelmed with his consideration and warmth.
Then, in fulfillment of the promise she made to her grandfather, she travels to Holland to nurse his old friend (Fabian's (gah, that is a flesh-crawling name) uncle). Will Uncle What'shisname survive? No, he's also destined for the boneyard and at this point I am considering questioning the wisdom of The Great Betty in making death such a central plot point. (Take a romantic cruise on the River Styx!)
Fabian pretty much drops her off with his irascible uncle and melodramatic cousin and pops in a week later (when Mary Jane has them all firmly in hand) to discover that no one is giving her time off!
Editorial Note:
(I know, there are a lot of them in this review.) This is actually an important part of the book for me. Fabian gets a lot of credit for putting himself out as her guardian but Mary Jane is doing some very skilled and long-term work for his family. This puts things on a more equitable footing --it mitigates some of the age difference and tells us why he falls for her. And fall he does...
Uncle dies.
Fabian tells us at the end that this is when he realizes he loves Mary Jane and though they haven't spent much time together in Holland he did get to see her dog and pony show of sterling qualities.
As he deposits her back in England they discuss substantively the administrative duties of guardianship:
Her: I think I shall buy a horse.
Him: Over my dead body.
With that sort of impasse (and Mary Jane still unaware that she is anything less than a festering boil on Fabian's backside) is it any wonder that when long lost Cousin Mervyn (he of the too-close eyes who might have inherited the estate if hide or hair of him had been found) arrives from Canada he finds a girl ripe for the love con?
The gentle rain of his endless compliments is balm to her wounded spirit. And soon enough she entertains thoughts of marriage and foolishly writes him a blank check (maybe to stave off monetary deflation?) so that he can purchase a murder weapon. Okay, Prince (the wild-eyed and limping horse) isn't a murder weapon yet but tally him with the Special License Mervyn has in his pocket and the insurance policy he recommends she take out and it creates a fetid stew.
Fabian arrives just in time. He essentially throws Mervyn out on his ear and breaks Mary Jane's heart like a bull in a china shop.
Editorial Note:
So if you blinked and missed his dawning realization, all this comes over very differently. There's that scene in the Olivia de Havilland movie (The Heiress) when the plain Jane is being told by her father that smoking hot Montgomery Clift was playing her for a fool and was only after her filthy lucre. Daddy isn't gently imparting the news--he's gloating. And, if you don't feel sympathetic to Fabian for having to break up the wedding of the girl he loves than it sort of comes off that way. He doesn't quite say 'What other reason, besides your fortune, would a man have for wanting you?' but she might feel it is implied. I mean, he calls her an easy mark! That's not going to translate well any way you slice it.
She yells her head off at him which he doesn't deserve as he's just been to Winnipeg and back (Winnipeg! Betty Keira expects a all from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce in 3...2...1...) but he's the only one to vent her considerably bruised feelings on.
They part--he to Holland and she to part-time nursing back in London (which is as near to ripping up the will that she ever gets)--but he returns, asking her to nurse his cousin.
I like this interlude in Holland. She realizes that she loves him and then in a tiny little interchange we get a peek of their future life together. They're out skating on the ice and she nearly cannons into him. 'Whoops!' said Mary Jane, breathless. 'I thought I was going to knock you over--you should have moved.'
He was still holding her. 'No need. I weigh fifteen stone or thereabouts, and I doubt if you're much more than eight.' He laughed down at her. 'You show a fine turn of speed, though I don't think much of your style.'
'Oh, style--I enjoy myself.'

Won't they make a darling pair? I wish we'd seen more of that.
She goes back to England soon after and misses him terribly. When it gets too much she takes long walks and returning to the house, cold and tired, she allows herself an 'Oh, Fabian.' He answers.
The End

Rating: This one is going to take a bit more explaining than an ordinary Neels. The first half is Fabian's Nasty Sojourn and the second half is The Many Mistakes of Mary Jane. But there are parts to like in both (Mary Jane being human and diligent in part 1 and Fabian being trustworthy and yearning in part 2). So, here's my Wish List for Winter of Change:
  • I wish she'd called it Summer of Change and added more yellow bikinis. The somber and chilly mood of death and thick sweaters makes this seem extra depressing.
  • I wish that her country home had a little more life in it--local friends popping in and out for drinks, really chummy staff (Mrs. Body, though kind enough, strikes me as someone who likes her domain in the kitchens and will be happy when a man takes up the reins of management), and a pet that is not the elderly left-over animal of her dead grandfather.
  • Even though he tells her at the end the moment he fell in love with her, I wish that La Neels had made Fabian's Dawning Realization more clear in the moment it happens. I noticed it on the second read (which radically changed how I viewed the second act) and I had a lot more sympathy for him thereafter.
  • Fabian. Here are 10 streaming consciousness names that I guarantee will all be better than Fabian: Frank, Tom Mark, George, Gus, Scott, Tiberius (My daughter is watching Star Trek), Harold, Nathan, and Carl...Okay, maybe it's better than Carl.
There are enough witty observations and charming turns of phrase to make this a darling book but Fabian's gratuitously cruel and chilling remarks to Mary Jane when her grandfather is dying sour the soup--no, no, they drop radioactive isotopes into the soup. We don't have any reason to root for him for many, many long pages.
I had remembered that Mary Jane was more of a simp than she really was. Sure, she doesn't like Fabian right off but he really earns her enmity and she's a bit off balance (what with her only living relative popping off in that fashion). She is enormously helpful and sensible when she nurses Fabian's uncle and babysits his cousin. And her only mistake is following Mervyn's trail of breadcrumbs into his Enchanted Cottage of Bull Pucky. That she needs time to be rude and disillusioned (particularly as Fabian made zero attempt to break things to her gently) and to lick her wounds doesn't fuss me.
This earns a Beans on Toast because Fabian is truly awful and that's a hole that the Great Betty doesn't quite manage to dig him out of. Still, the writing is quite good and Mary Jane is a flawed but generally sensible character. But it's a sad book and that more than anything is why I don't recommend it very highly.

Food: Bacon, eggs and scones, beef, baked apples and cream (which sounds yummy but I have serious doubts). Fillet of beef in shirtsleeves, Robert's Chocolate Fancy, Kentish roast duckling, erwtensoup, quenelles of sole, salmon with asparagus tips and chocolate gateau....mmmmmm.

Fashion: Grey dress, brown tweeds, felt hat, a 'nice' evening dress of blue and green organza with a pie-frill collar. A velvet beret that he fails to notice. A dark green pinafore dress with a crepe blouse (I think I grew up after the era in which grown women could wear pinafores without looking like mutton dressed as lamb), a gorgeous sounding burgundy red coat, dress and cap that sounds like something Jackie O might have worn and (because it is the bleak, cold winter) a sheepskin jacket and knitted mitts.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, January 7th.
Winter of Change
Rabbity teeth, heroine (Mary Jane) becomes a ward to Fabian, conniving cousin Mervyn.