|Gorgeous Baby van Voorhees.|
The point of these pictures (besides showing off Betty Keira's adorable pledges), is to point out the girls here. Betty Laura is 10 years older than Betty Maren. Laura is the type of girl who is going to grow up to be gorgeous, but not really aware of it. Much like the heroine in our book. Fortunately, Maren will never turn out to be a Zoe. If Betty Keira and her husband die in some unfortunate motoring accident (and let's pray they never do), I will personally ensure that Maren is never a blight on Laura's love life.
Last week was Never Say Goodbye (which was so, so good) and I guess Betty felt quite strongly that to utter the word 'goodbye' was the kiss of death for a relationship. Let's see if we like No Need To Say Goodbye as well...(pssst. We don't, more's the pity.)
For the first fifty pages I was trying to stop sniggering over her name: Nurse Payne (which sounds like some basement dweller's World of Warcraft avatar). Louise Payne, 26, is a lovely and serene girl about whom nobody feels the slightest temptation to make a pun. She is the possessor of four millstones; Zoe, 19, (which name actually has an umlaut over the e but I refuse to make the effort for a character I feel so conflicted about--actually, that's not so. I don't feel conflicted. I want to smack that treacle-y darling up the backside of the head.), Christine (we don't care about Christine except to note that she is underage), Michael (another sibling only trotted to fill out familial conversations and to leave notes like'Gone fishing') and Dusty the dog.
They're orphans about to be evicted from their dreary London home.
At times like this you can only thank your lucky stars that comfortably-off and satisfyingly distant and disagreeable relatives obligingly pop off and have the good sense to leave their cottage to one. Louise, hitherto downcast and worried, practically dances a jig on the sidewalk outside the solicitor's and Dr. Aldo van der Linden, a long-time colleague, crosses over out of curiosity.
Though they've worked with one another for years, there hasn't been an atom of attraction between them. (Which I don't buy for a minute but, if pressed to explain, I might ascribe to the probability that Louise has turned off her pheromones for the duration of raising her siblings.)
Aldo finds out that their new home will be in Much Hadham, just down the street from where he lives!...but he doesn't tell her until he walks in on her scrubbing Great-Aunt Letitia's cabinets. 'Well, I never...'
: One of my gripes with this book is that you don't really get a feel for when he falls in love with her. (I don't require a time and a place for most books but since they've been like icebergs, bumping along in the mid-Atlantic for eons, then, yes, I would like to know when his fire was lit.) Anyway, with very little evidence to work with, I think this might be it. He's there in her kitchen, enjoying surprising her, glimpsing a peek behind the closed curtain of her private life (and getting to see her gallant struggle to keep their family together, enormous sacrifices she's made to achieve it and pathetic relief that they get a small cottage off in the country) and getting told, in the kindest way possible, that if he'd just shove off, she could get on with it. I think that seeing her hair down (a hoary, if accurate, cliche) sparks things off.
Over the course of the next few weeks, he volunteers to be the family chauffeur, ferrying cleaning supplies and small luggage down to Much Hadham. Zoe, greets her sister (home from cleaning excursions), with hot tea and sympathy and then is sure to be the one to walk Aldo out to the car for a delightful coze. On this very thin beer, Louise constructs a relationship. To her wearied mind, not only does Aldo find Zoe attractive but he also must want to marry her. And Louise is nothing if not resolute in pressing for Zoe's advantages.
The main theme here is that Louise is an outsider. She never gets a chance to be with the rest of the family, or is included in other activities (she works night duty, after all) or enjoys a light flirtation with a handsome Dutchman. Now, a bunch of that is circumstantial and some of it is her own fault but I feel bad for her anyway.
When the time comes to retrench to Much Hadham, Louise (sensible, good sport, serene, Louise) is being sucked into a vortex of silliness. She is determined to throw Zoe at Aldo's innocent head and conversely strives to avoid meeting him. She can't make heads nor tails of her feelings but follow them she does--dodging his invitations time after time on the thinnest of excuses.
Aldo, meanwhile, finds Louise's'maidenly shrinking tedious' (Ouch.) and he calls her out on it. He is also becoming increasingly amused by Louise the Yenta. But he's also more than a little annoyed too. Though the book doesn't make a wonderful case at this point that he is in love, subsequent events lean to the probability. The girl he loves is evidently impervious to his attractions, determined to force him into wooing Zoe (whom I like to think he thought of as insipid), and closed off to thinking of her own love life. This has to stop!
The Log Jam of Pre-Mature Spinsterhood is finally unloosed by a couple of things.
- Zoe meets George Standish--a junior partner at the firm of solicitor's that she works at. (Though her attraction to George doesn't stop her from ruining her sister's courtship as much as possible. 'Hey, feather-brain, you're about five years too old to be flinging your arms around every personable fellow you meet! Stop it.')
- Also, Louise gets a short-term nursing job for Aldo which requires her to travel up to London with him and, even better, up to Scotland.
'Well, it is romantic, you know. Grottoes and things,' she added vaguely, and thought how wonderful it would be if he were to take her in his arms and kiss her, a hollow hope.
He turned her around smartly. 'In which case, I think it advisable not to visit the grotto.' A remark which made her face flame...Never, never, she promised herself, would he get the chance to say anything like that again...
Though signs of his growing attachment have been nearly nonexistent, all at once the jello sets. He is suddenly tormented, leashed and awesome. He'll be patient and he'll get his girl and he'll let us watch. (Which irks me because it would have only taken a couple of paragraphs to sustain us through the first half of the book, when lots of great things happen (I love when cottages are cleaned!) but nothing excites.)
They travel back to Much Hadham in the teeth of a fierce storm and come upon an accident, written superbly by The Great Betty. While a small family, a couple of teenagers, some house pets and a baby are fed through The Plot Chipper-Shredder, we witness how perfectly they are suited to one another and how much their happiness depends on the other not being incinerated in an auto explosion.
|The kids will be fine!|
Louise is only just holding herself together and has begun thinking that a job in a Chilean mine or at a Himalayan base camp. Christine and Michael (the shadow siblings!) seem to be doing very well without her, watched over by the motherly home help, Mrs. Wills.
So, when Zoe kisses Aldo upon their return, it's only what she has rigidly tried to accept. Aldo is quick to sack her as soon as he drops her off.
'sokay though. He's back the next day while she's ironing and proposes the tar out of her.
'...my dear heart, I cannot go on any longer without you.'
Rating: This one feels like two separate books. You've got the first part where Louise struggles to hold the family together, plots to match-make, feels some vaguely unsettled feelings (Is it a dicky appendix or a reaction against bad shellfish? We get no real illumination for.ev.er.) and avoids Aldo. I wish that it all added up to the seeds of attraction or something but it just doesn't go anywhere. Add that to the flawed premise that Louise talks herself into a cockamamie idea about Zoe and Aldo...Gah. Is it wrong that the parts I liked best involved cleaning the cottage? Anyway, all this is middling Treacle Tart.
And then comes part two. Louise has a dawning realization and we are told that Aldo has already had one and the difference is like driving your beat-up Morris and then hopping into a great, socking Bentley. I loved second half (except for Sweet Zoe. I couldn't like that gummer of works. The wrap-up tells us that Zoe fell in love with George and that that love gave her second sight into Aldo's feelings. So, what's she doing kissing him in front of the girl he's trying to woo? She's fine. She deserves to have her George. Just don't make me try to like her.). Angst, tension, bridled passions. The works. That part is a Queen of Puddings.
So, split the difference somewhere between Mince Pies and boeuf en croute but don't blame me when you don't start loving it until you're half-way through.
Food: They eat a LOT of food. Salmon mousse, pineapple with kirsch (?) and whipped cream, gooseberry tart (I like to think Betty was winking at the readers, 'Louise thinks she's playing gooseberry!'), genuine lemonade, toast fingers spread with Gentleman's Relish, cottage pie, lime souffle (mmmmm), sole bonne femme, sausage rolls ice cream, steak and kidney pie, game soup, hunter's chicken with buttered rice (yum. yum), creme souffle a' l'orange, asparagus mousse with chicken livers and truffles (Come on, Betty. You're making things up now.), an entire dinner of 'of's with her future in-laws (quenelles of sole, saddle of lamb, bavarois of raspberries), green herring toast (no, thanks), and parfait of chicken livers (what is it with her and chicken livers?).
Fashion: She wears an old apron when he catches her cleaning house and dons an abundance of uniforms for work. Her funner clothes include an amber crepe dress, an angora stole (for the Hospital Ball), a cotton jersey skirt, a blouse and jacket in soft blue, and a grey crepe she is 'heartily sick of'. One of my favorite scenes in the book is the image of Louise shopping in town and weighing the merits of buying a new blouse versus a bathmat for the house. Because Louise always does the right thing, she gets the bathmat.