Monday, March 18, 2013

Roses For Christmas - Reprise

In honor of yesterday being St. Patrick's Day...I offer another Patrick from Ireland: Our Hero Fulk, has an Irish wolfhound named Patrick O'Flanelly

Um...that's all.

I love the idea of Eleanor wearing her old clothes around the MacFarlane homestead - because that's exactly what I would be wearing in similar circs.  I was just talking to Betty Keira - she is currently (at 7am), wearing an old t-shirt of her husband's, paint stained sweats and I'm sure her hair is delightfully tousled.  I am wearing a dress,  my hair has been styled, AND I have a necklace on...and I have been dressed like this since 5:20am.  Betty Keira will soon be showering and tarting herself up for a doctor's appointment (just over 3 weeks to go!!!!), while I, on the other hand, will be doffing the dress and necklace in favor of yoga pants and a tshirt.  

What are you wearing?

Eleanor MacFarlane, 25, lives in the tippy-top of Scotland. And when you live in the tippy-top of Scotland you should be pretty safe against unexpected visitors interrupting your free time and any raised eyebrows over your wardrobe choices (no matter how scummy). I mean, you know you're in the wop-wops when the nearest town of any name is Tongue.
But Eleanor didn't bank on Fulk van Hensum, 36, showing up in her life again.
Yes. Again.
There was a torrid affair lasting some years that broke off due to his insistence on her abandoning her career ambitions. She's been hiding out in the tippy-top of Scotland (building up a world-class 'consultation' empire) ever since--working to ruin him and dreading the day he would walk back into her life.
(But can't you totally see another Harlequin of similar vintage with just that plot?)
No, Fulk is a friend of the family and he knew Eleanor when she was a five-year-old terror. That he catches her at her most unglamorous (sitting in the barn, eating an apple and playing with kittens) is an annoyance.
Editorial Note: I must have read this as one of my first Neels because the 11 year age gap felt really big. Silly me.
Their re-acquaintance is swift enough to cover all the pertinent details.
Him: Married? No. Engaged? Yes...Do you always dress like this?
Her: You're just as hateful as you were when you were a boy.
Her antipathy toward him is as irrational as his love for her is sudden. And pity the poor man. One minute he's engaged to Imogen (a name whose Latin meaning is 'image of her mother'--which is both hilarious and illuminating) and the next moment he has chucked his bonnet over the windmill for the gorgeous former-ankle-biter. All this is reason enough to excuse his wicked twitting of Eleanor, if you need one.
He takes a shine to her eight-year-old little brother, Henry, whose medical frailty is like a looming billboard over the proceedings. (Buy rheumatic fever! Satisfaction guaranteed! New, brighter formula!)
Fast forward a month. Eleanor is visiting home when a sudden blizzard traps Henry, his teacher and several other boys on a mountain-like pass.
Editorial Note: I love this episode. Fulk calls Eleanor his 'pocket compass' (which passes for a compliment in the tippy-top of Scotland) and they both have to pilot an aged school bus up some treacherous roads--showing up as brave, hearty, and full of good spirits.
Even though Henry escapes the event in relatively good health, Eleanor and Fulk's medical spidey-senses detect signs of an approaching illness. To head off any downturns, Fulk invites little Henry to Holland. Eleanor accompanies them to the passport offices and spends her time making a list (Doubly underlined) titled Things I Would Like to Have:
  • Roses for Christmas
  • Sable coat
  • Gina Fratini dress
  • Givenchy scarf
  • Marks and Spencer sweater
  • toothpaste
  • surgical scissors
  • every paperback I want
(It is an exhaustive list with catholic tastes. Pause here to wonder if Fulk sees the list.)
Interlarded in all this to-ing and fro-ing Eleanor finds out that Imogen (Oh that's right. Imogen.) is in Cannes. We don't know exactly how Fulk feels about her absence and he manages to answer any questions Eleanor puts to him with all the piercing specificity of a Chinese fortune cookie. (Confucius say Guinea-blonde in Cannes, an American millionaire will find.)
And then Henry's illness goes from hypothetical to nearly lethal. The rheumatic fever has arrived. Fulk fetches Eleanor, makes time to ogle her legs in the airport lounge and then whisks her off to her brother's side.
This part of the book is where our hero is thoughtful and distant--managing to convey the kind of interest and concern one might expect of one's insurance salesman. He avoids her as often as possible as they get Henry slowly back on his feet.
Baroness Oss van Oss (Imogen-image-of-her-mother's mother) is pretty much the supercilious harpy you would expect, swooping in to make sure her daughter's fiance isn't playing patty-fingers with the nurse. That Eleanor by this time knows she loves Fulk (and that Imogen's mother might have a point) makes no dent on her moral outrage.
Fulk rushes off to Cannes for a weekend and Eleanor stews like a girl who minds. (Naturally she minds.)
Things float along for a while in a trench warfare kind of way--either side is going nowhere and poison gas attacks are kept to a minimum--until one day Imogen (the much anticipated Imogen) shows up in Fulk's house. 
Imogen isn't exactly raining hellfire and brimstone on the poor nurse's head--she's catty, to be sure (Mama said you were pretty, and I suppose you are in a large way, but not in the least chic--I wonder what Fulk sees in you?), but marvelously direct when Eleanor tells her to wait for Fulk.
'But you're going to marry him--you love him,' declared Eleanor persevering.
'No I'm not, and I don't.'
'Well, now what?'
Fulk will take care of 'now what'. He's got dozens and dozens of roses for Christmas if she'd care to step into the next room. He's going to do his proposing in style.
The End

Rating: I didn't dislike it but I wasn't in love with this one either. Maybe I've been suffering an embarrassment of riches (The Mistletoe Kiss last week and A Christmas Romance coming up) so that this selection is being judged against those really great offerings.
The characters are interesting, they have a compelling back story (a hero who remembers her when she was a snotty ankle-biter! Yes!) and they have a menacing (if traditional) threat of Imogen the Affianced.
But, like making jello in a heatwave, this story never quite gels for me. The Great Betty tells us that they're getting along but more often she shows us that they're ready to fly off the handle with one another--not that that is unexpected in the circumstances. If I had a mad passion for a man and he was engaged to a guinea-gold paragon I might find myself easily nettled as well.
Henry is that rare literary child who is a genuine delight and Ma and Pa MacFarlane add a homey and tolerant touch to the mix.
The beginning and the end are really the best parts for me and the culmination is charming.
Tasty Mince pie for me.

Food: Ice cream with nuts, boiled fish, nourishing stew, braised heart, spaghetti on toast (I need to be assured that this would be garlic toast.), hake and chips, poffertjes, Crowdie (a parcel of which Fulk is taking back to Holland for Henry who is sick), ham souffle, baked apples and cream, caramel custard and ragout of game.

Fashion: She meets him again wearing old slacks and a thick shabby sweater. She dons a russet tweed suit to impress him and has a tweed coat and fur hat. His servants give him a dreadful tiefor Saint Nicolaas which she doesn't doubt he will wear.


  1. Hey, my comment disappeared! There was a real life Patrick O’Flannely. Irish: Pádraig Ó Flannaile.
    Patrick Martin "Patsy" Flannelly (7 November 1909– 14 October 1939) was an Irish Gaelic footballer who played as a midfielder for the Mayo senior team.

  2. I just love this book! Lovely review! (Excepting of course the "this story never quite gels for me"-part, ha ha ha!) I love the pictures and illustrations.
    Betty Anonymous

  3. What am I wearing, indeed. Such a question. I am in a dress and sweater and velvet slippers, and my hair is squeaky clean.

    Betty was just not into the Irish. (Did Mills & Boon ever publish stories with Irish heroes or heroines?) Bar the one wolfhound and the occasional doctor dashing off to Northern Ireland to duck bullets and reconstruct kneecaps, there might as well not be a large landmass four hours' ferry ride west of Dorset.

    (My dress is pale purple and has a large reddish-brown stain near the hem. The sweater is dull green and has a gigantic moth hole over the right bosom. The velvet slippers are bedroom slippers, and get worn a lot if you know what I'm sayin'. My hair is freshly washed and dripping on my sweater.)

    This one has that icky and peculiar passage where Fulk implies, or at least the reader might infer, that as a 16-year old he found five-year old Eleanor romantically interesting. Discuss. I love Eleanor's list, though five years later no Neels heroine would be in the same room as a sable coat (must be hunted; may be endangered; can't remember), but I would rather be called a little dragon than a pocket compass. Also, I think heroes never have any excuse for picking on heroines, and she has no reason at all to go all prickly at him.

    1. No Brits of her era are into the Irish....not only due to the Troubles, but going back to when the Irish Republic harbored bailed-out Luftwaffe pilots out of spite toward the Brits rather than any sort of affinity for the Nazis. The big white rock "EIRE" sign on the northern coast of Donegal is still there, left so that Germans knew where to bail out. (As did Americans, the Irish took good care of them, too.)

      Lesson learned the hard way: If you are flying into Ireland with an American passport and a name like "O'Connell", do NOT connect through Heathrow. I never encountered that sort of rudeness from any Brit in any other context. And you will be searched for excess cash (making sure you aren't smuggling funds to the IRA).

  4. This is one of the "I like better" novels. Quite cute and his comment about 5 year old Eleanor is clearly from a time where people were a little more innocent.


    1. You're right Betty-Birgit, anyone who would make something pervy out of this needs to remember a more innocent time. I always loved Gilbert O'Sullivan's song Clair, and people try to make something "unwholesome" out of it, too.

      When I was six I used to tell my mom's 18 year old co-worker that I was going to marry him when I grew up, but when he enlisted and came back from the Navy with his head shaved I hid under the table and cried because he wasn't "my" Dwight anymore...LOL...romance over! I was very fickle.

      B von S

  5. What was I wearing? (Bought when?) Dark blue jeans (last year at C & A), black cotton turtleneck (years ago), slightly washed out black cotton v-neck sweater with a bit of a collar (more than a decade ago). My hair, freshly washed in the morning, hanging untidily in a cloud around my shoulders (read: frizzy).

    1. Forgot to sign in. Betty Anonymous

  6. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha yellow snow ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
    If I had a barn full of kittens and the apples were Honeycrisp, that would be all I wanted, no need to make a list.

    B von S

    P.S. It is totally worth it to type in the captcha characters, no more badly written comments by weirdos. Except mine, that is.

  7. 'Crowdie—Henry loves it. I thought, when he gets better and begins to eat, he might like it on his bread and butter. There's a little Orkney cheese too. They'll keep in the fridge—you've got one, haven't you?' There was a gleam at the back of his eyes. 'I believe so—if not, I'll get one the moment we arrive.' She looked at him in astonishment. 'But surely you must know what you've got in your own house?'

  8. The Northernmost Coast of Scotland – A "Betty" Place Indeed?

    She knew the footsteps climbing it and sighed to herself; holidays were lovely after the bustle and orderly precision of the ward in the big Edinburgh hospital where she was a Sister; the cosy homeliness of the manse where her parents and five brothers and sisters lived in the tiny village on the northernmost coast of Scotland, was bliss

    On the northernmost coast of Scotland, there is a place called Bettyhill. The Photo Gallery of the Bettyhill Hotel will give you an idea of the landscape up there (some of the pictures taken in winter) and their Bar Menu actually cites such Betty foods as Macaroni Cheese and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

  9. Fulk took them to tea; to the Central Hotel, large and impressive with its draperies and its mirrors and chandeliers. Henry looked round, his eyes wide. He had never been in such a place before for his tea, and it was an experience which he was enjoying. Eleanor blessed Fulk for his understanding of a small boy's idea of a treat, and tried not to worry at the small meal her brother was making.

    It was almost a week after Henry had gone that he mentioned, on a particularly colourful postcard, that his throat was a bit sore; the information had been sandwiched between the statement that he had been to a museum at Leeuwarden, and had eaten something called
    poffertjes for his supper, so that she had scarcely noted it.

  10. Hi ladies. I seldom post anymore, but I just finished a reread on this one. I love this book. First of all, I love the apples and kittens scene. It's very real, just as the review says, and it's IMMEDIATELY apparent that Fulk is gobsmacked in spite of her old clothes and tangled hair... he had his life so worked out and ordered and then BAM! There she is again. She was unsettling even at five, now she's gorgeous and he knows right away he's in trouble. I also love how genuinely unwilling she is to poach on Imogen's preserves, and how she tries hard to think the best of the girl (she doesn't know she doesn't love him and deserve him). Finally, Henry is one of the bestest Neels kiddies ever. :-) I think this one is top ten for me.