Have I mentioned how awesome the cover on All Else Confusion is? That hair is some kind of fabulous.
Jake and Annis are the names of the prospective couple in which other book in the canon?
Jake is not an RDD or even a BRD...what is his profession?
Where are Jake's main business concerns located?
What song was sung at their wedding?
Sincerely (in need of a nap),
Cover art? Betty Debbie suggests that she looks like she's wearing a Dolly Parton wig and is set to take to the Grand Ole Opry stage to sing the heart out of some honky-tonk song. Betty Debbie is kind of awesome.
Annis Fothergill, 22, is the kind of country girl you might find in a Ralph Lauren print ad where the languidly affluent pretend to muck about in wellies and prohibitively expensive flannels--the sunlight glistening through their artfully tousled hair.
Jake Royle, 35, (whose very name annoys me in an Alpha Male pin-striped way) crests the hill on his tediously magnificent steed. ('Maidens ho!')
Mr. Royle is not a doctor. He is a businessman. A CEO. He owns a factory. In New Zealand. It manufactures who knows what. We never find out. Betty never tells us. (I have just one question: Is he or is he not employing Oompa-Loompas?)
No matter. He sees our beautifully rumpled heroine and makes himself invisible--watching as she greets her childhood friend Matt, fusses over a broke-down donkey, and promises her birthday money for veterinary hoof treatment.
In all his life, Jake has never met someone like Annis.
Annis has never met anyone like Jake.
On one side there is attraction and curiosity and on the other instant antipathy--a defense mechanism as useless as 'duck and cover' in the event of a nuclear bomb.
Annis takes a temporary job as companion to Mrs. Duvant (Jake's godmother) while she settles into her house in Bath. Of course Jake is pulling the strings here--arranging to keep an eye on Annis and breeze into town to chat her up. (Which ought to indicate that he loves her but it doesn't so don't get too excited.)
But back to chatting up. Boy does he. They have a date and she thanks her lucky stars that she had time and money enough to splurge on a knock-out out-fit. She has a lovely time and when he kisses her soundly at the close of the evening it seems only sporting to kiss him back.
Mrs. Duvant dies. Yeah. Dies. No one bothered to tell Annis about the incurable and imminently terminal cancer that renders her redundant. Still, it is worth a pause to mention that the old lady was carried off at the height of her frippery-purchasing, bridge-playing life and you can't do better than that.
Jake dispenses with all business of death and then takes Annis (who is finally in love with the dingus) for a drive into the country...to meet his parents and grandmother and offer her a proposal of sorts. It's a very casual proposal attached to a mill-stone of elephantine proportions.Some girl, what's-her-name, threw me over when I was poor-ish and young so now I am doomed to walkthe earth cursing the name of womankind and hoping I might find a companion to share my wealth but not my bed. Yes. Well, almost. I believe the exact words are 'Six months if you like. See how we get on, getting to know each other, becoming friends, nothing more if you don't want that...That's a promise.' It's a wonder he doesn't offer her a receipt and ask her to sign for delivery.
But the part that sticks in my throat is his grandma (whom we are told to like but I stubbornly refuse) disliking the fuss of a big wedding. 'Annis had no doubt in her mind that his granny had had a wonderful and very grand wedding--white satin, orange blossom, bridesmaids, the lot.' And that's when it seems all very cruel (though nearly the same set-up in other books doesn't strike me the same way)--taking an unaffected country girl in her dreamy youth and marrying her because she's very nice to look at and 'fills the bill'. (I know that there are forces at work that he hasn't put his finger on yet--that he recognizes someone he can love--but he doesn't know that when he asks for her hand in marriage.) He can't be bothered with noticing that she told him that the only reason to marry was for love (and that she agrees to do it) and he can't be bothered to notice that she gets a sick pit in her stomach every time he calls her darling--a word which in the wilds of the countryside means cherished sweetheart and in a London flat means 'Thanks for passing the olive tray.' So Jake Royle has a lot of catching up to do before I like him.
They take off to Lisbon for a sort of business/honeymoon which is also Annis' first trip out of the country. He manages to squeeze in time for shopping (a lot of shopping) in between sessions of ignoring her at breakfast and running his multi-national chocolate-making empire in the afternoon. Still, she does the best with what she has--performing all sorts of acrobatics in her new clothes (short of loosening indecorous buttons) only to have her enthusiasms snuffed out by his prodigious apathy.
She sees him one afternoon with a lovely Senora. Jealousy, like that white tiger in the Sigfried and Roy act, turns on her ferociously. To pay him back, she rashly dines in The. Hotel. Dining. Room. (Roxanne! You don't have to turn on your red light.) Jake's hot, swarthy business partner, Roberto Gonzalez (Here, I imagine my caliente Mexican/Dutch husband. You may find your own mental candy. I recommend Andy Garcia. You're welcome.), asks to join her. Enter a furious Jake (bent on tossing a few crumbs of affection (read: money) at his wife). This isn't really an important episode but there are un-pretty feelings all around and no implied conjugal relations to disperse them.
Back in England they settle into the flat (ugh--which in any other book than a Neels one I wouldn't find so objectionable) and Annis divvies up the chores with the daily help--she's to do the shopping and ironing. (Don't you just love her?)
He reminds her that their social obligations will be starting soon and when she expresses misgivings he answers her, 'I shouldn't worry about that, darling, you're pretty enough to get awaywithout making any effort at anything.'
'Oh, do you think I'm pretty?'
(Prepare yourself for the caddish and offhand answer.)
'Why else should I have married you?'
And Annis does carry off the social side without much of a hitch--though readers are given vague generalities when a well-settled cross-over character/future BFF would have suited nicely, indicating that she really will be happy and find friends there. When she has time on her own (to navigate the strange and jarring city life) she does charmingly simple things like stand with a crowd of people to watch a society bride go into a church. These things she doesn't share with her husband, assuming he won't be interested. (And in her defense, he might be beginning to be interested in her but probably not in those little darling details that remind him what a simple and dreamy young girl he married.)
The time comes for Jake to make an extended business trip (Who can take the rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie? The Candyman can...) and he suggests that Annis go to her parents' house for the duration--contrary to his expressed expectations at the time of his 'proposal' (oh, yes. It deserves the scare quotes I'm giving it.).
Don't I fit in with your life in London? Don't your friends like me?' comes the desperate plea from a love-starved wife.
That's when he quotes Tennyson (From that early feminist tract, The Princess, that I mentioned here) with less happy results:
Man with the head and woman with the heart:
Man to command and woman to obey;
All else confusion
(I'm pretty sure that the person in the poem saying it is the one who is supposed to be speaking rubbish.)
So she goes home and is miserable and when he comes again she has have him help rescue her little sister from frightening tinkers. And then Jake hears her telling Nancy (the broken burro) that she'll just have to tell Jake. And how can she when he's given her and her family all those lovely things?
Erm. Tell Jake what?
That she loves him.
But that's not what he thinks.
So he leaves her and goes to Naples...where she follows him!
They take a run out to Pompeii (a partially buried city, frozen at the moment of a single cataclysmic event--as good a symbol of his ability to love as any) and after much sight-seeing she gives him her news.
He tells her that he fell in love at first sight (a nigh-on-indigestible morsel of information) but didn't know it right away. (That's right. It only occurred to him on the drive to the volcano!)
Kissing and a promise to start a conjugal-relations Honeymoon toot sweet.
Rating: I'm not crazy about this one. Our heroine is quite likable--she's got a bit of sauce to her even if she has to swallow her pride in marrying a man who looks through her like she's a plate glass window. She's awfully down-to-earth and charmingly scheming and always says 'sorry' when she's done something mean.
It's Jake that bugs me. Jake and his conventional Harlequin-esque-ness. Business tycoon? Marries a babe? Nurses an imagined slight by an insignificant and lost-to-the-sands-of-history female into semi-misogyny? Lives in a posh London flat? Swanks about with anonymous blondes? (Which would make a great name for a girl-band if you like.) Spends money like it's monsoon season and the tap is running?
I salute her trying out a new paradigm but, at the end of the day, I don't think The Great Betty goes far enough. Annis is the kind to make Jake healed and happy--she's just adorable that way. He'll come home late from his business meetings, have his whiskey, and thank his lucky stars that Annis shed all that baby-weight so quickly. But can he make her happy? The jury is out. He's got a lifestyle I imagine her tolerating but she's clearly the 'run-down cottage in the country with a couple of derelict sheds wherein they might house foundling donkeys' type and I can't help but think she's going to wish she'd held out for Jake's college chum from Zierikzee (with a medical practice and time for snogging) or, failing that, Roberto Gonzolez might do (though I confess that Gonzalez is my least favorite of the Hispanic 'ez' names--for the first week of knowing him, I thought Mijnheer van Voorhees' last name was Gonzalez and I had to really consider if I thought him cute enough to take it. He was. But I was more than happy to be a Dominguez instead.).
But I read this more than a week ago and I'm probably being way harsh on the poor man (and honestly, writing the review just egged me on to find all his most awful parts). He gate-crashes adorably at one point and if we'd only got something definite in the way of a dawning realization I'd have liked him much more. So, it's not really bad (if it were a random Harlequin by another author I might have liked it quite well)...I just didn't love it. Madiera Cake.
Food: Chilled melon, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and sprouts ('...very English,' says Betty). Charlotte Russe, oyster soup, spiced chicken with apricots, mac and cheese, lobster patties, tournedos Rossini (which makes me think of weather events and opera all at the same time), pommes de terre Berny, dried cod souffle, balo de mei (on their no-implied-conjugal-relations-honeymoon), beef en croute (!), sherry trifle, steak and kidney pie, souffle Harlequin (twice, I think), and medallions of beef...mmmmm, beef.
Fashion: Her mid-West farmer's daughters outfits comprise wellies, an old coat, flyaway hair, a blue velvet dress (on the dowdy side), and a tweed suit. She buys a blue dress with a ruffle and bronze sandals ('going cheap but nonetheless elegant') for her date with him in Bath. She makes her own wedding dress. Their Shopping Spree of Surrogate Affection yields a good many treasures: pale green crepe de chine, a 'blue thing with pleats', organza in patterned green with a pie-frill neck, a Jaeger three piece of cotton jersey in cream and lime green, a black satin (which tells you as much as anything that Jake is no staid RDD), and a silvery crepe dress (turn that into a pant-suit and an RDD's mother would have snubbed her).