Monday, July 22, 2013

The Awakened Heart - Reprise

I am currently out of town on holiday.  This past week was spent mostly in Wyoming with a bit of Idaho and Montana thrown in for good measure.  Tomorrow my #4 child is graduating from college, so I'm in Rexburg, Idaho helping him to pack up his worldly possessions in preparation for his move to Boise, Idaho, wherein he has a job (hooray!).

Have a very Betty week!

Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Debbie
 When Betty Debbie ran the Upcoming Reviews feature last week, Betty Barbara commented: "According to my spreadsheet, I have actually read The Awakened heart. Could've fooled me!!"  What ills does this portend...?

Here's what you need to know about our heroine.  When Sophie Blount(27) brings home Rijk van Taak and her mother sees them together, the wise woman thinks to herself, 'A good thing Rijk loved Sophie so much that he was willing to put up with her ideas...'  Sophie practically makes a cottage industry out of peddling a lot of old trot.
...Which is all a shame as they started off so well, the darlings.  Rijk met Sophie while her shoe was stuck in a grate.  Rather than use it as an opportunity to oogle her legs (which is rather a short-term gain, long-term loss, I'd say), he unties her sensible heeled lace-ups (shudder) and helps her out.
Though he makes no headway on his initial sortie, he reconnoiters at her flatlet shortly thereafter and says in a loud, carrying tone, 'Your good landlady has kindly allowed me to visit...' Every troubled maiden worth her salt is guarded by a beastly dragon and Rijk is quick to note Miss Phipps the Landlady's status as the Gatekeeper...er...Keymaster.  Anyway.  Over the course of the next weeks, Rijk is here, there and everywhere like that foam insulation that expands into every nook and cranny.  Message?  Sophie's heating bills this winter will be low, low, low.
But, as much as the professor loves his Sophie (Oh yes, he is one smitten-kitten.), he is less enamored of her living situation.  Miss Phipps's slipping wig and ready tongue, Sophie's dire flatlet, the fact that Rijk has to do his wooing while on flying visits from Holland, night duty, Sophie's strange reluctance to commit romantically to the only disease-free millionaire to come calling, and that awful, poky side-street all combine to bring things to a brisk boil.
Which leads him to say gently on a brief overlook of Epping Forest, 'May I take it that we are now good, firm friends, Sophie?...Then perhaps you know what I am going to say next.  Will you marry me, Sophie?' 
Her response is disappointingly gobsmacked and they have a short little chat about how her heart was broken most vilely during her mis-spent youth and how she vowed never, ever to let herself be vulnerable again.
Editorial Note: I lose patience with Sophie at this point.  Though hitherto adorable (if unwilling to play ball), she's decided to blight her life over a man whose face she can't even remember?!  She's decided to skip the whole marriage and kids thing over that?!  I felt more sympathy for Tishy (A Small Slice of Summer) who at least had been broken-hearted within recent memory instead of Sophie's cock-and-bull reasons to cloister herself away from life--a decision arrived at over the course of eight loooong years.  Gah! 
He agrees to wait for her answer and here Betty loses me a bit. Maybe I was muddled myself, but there are several points at which she tells him that she agrees to marry him.  But they go back to, 'Is this your final answer?'  She tells him 'yes' on page 83. (Before they go to Holland.)  Reiterates it to Miss Phipps on page 89.  Mentally waffles on Holland (wherein the reader says, 'What?!') and tries to tell him again on 119.  She finally convinces him she means to marry him on page 137.  
You'll notice I skipped Holland.  The trip isn't that lengthy or that exciting and I kept getting distracted by the fact that she's spending her time deciding to marry him after she already said she would....Also, I really missed Miss Phipps and her sickening twitters.
Sophie seems to have no dawning realizations hovering on her horizon but in the lead-up to the wedding she is disturbed by Rijk's seeming inattention and absence.  And then one morning she awakes to an earthquake. (Not a real one.  Don't be silly, Bettys, real earthquakes only happen in Greece!)  She's in love with Rijk and he doesn't seem to love her back.
The marriage of convenience is all very well--it's certainly a pick-up after that so-so first Holland trip.  Sophie finds his servants endearing, his home lovely, her in-laws accommodating...But every Eden has a snake in the grass and Sophie's appears to be Irena van Moren.  She's one of those icy blonds who never have a hair out of place and has a vague, if disturbingly secretive, relationship with our hero.
Naturally there's a fight.  Sophie upbraids Rijk for stepping out with a woman she can't even loathe properly.  ('If she hadn't hated her so thoroughly, she would have liked her.')  Rijk ices up and Irena catches Sophie in the aftermath and sorts her out nicely.  'My husband--you knew?  You said you did.  He had a brain tumor and Rijk saved his life, but we told no one because Jerre is the director of a big business concern and if it were known that he was so very ill it would have caused much panic and shareholders would have lost money...'  At last!  A reason for secrecy and stealth that entirely exonerates everyone in a believable fashion!  I could kiss Irena.  And then Irena really does Sophie a solid by dragging her off to meet Rijk and make it up.
Jerre is the Steve Jobs of Holland
And they do.
The End

Rating: Parts of this one are very good.  Rijk is adorable and persistent and totally disgusted with Sophie's living set-up.  Miss Phipps is probably the all-time Betty Neels champion for objectionable (yet awesome) landladies... 
But the problem areas are nothing to sneeze at.  This is not one of The Great Betty's most consistent reads--I think Sophie has to tell Rijk that she'll marry him, like, three times and I kept thinking, 'I thought you'd settled that already.'  Also, though I know that Love's Young Dream Blighted is a common plot device to explain the unmarried state of hot, hot Dutch millionaire surgeons in La Neels' other books, when applied to Sophie* and explained out (the over-explaining murdered my sympathy for her rather than rousing it), I just wanted to slap her around.  Nobody (maybe by 'nobody' I really mean 'no gorgeous and oft-chatted-up nurse') ruins their life because they were thwarted in love at nineteen by some rotter unless one's sense of priorities or proportion are out of whack.  Look Sophie, chalk that one up to experience and move along.  The girl does redeem herself by allowing Irena to rush her off to apologize to Rijk at the end and I generally liked her otherwise but her youthful and sustained silliness was a mighty big pill to swallow.
So, the beginning is just great (maybe Queen of Puddings great) but the middle sort of muddles around and we only get a little lift in the end so the rest is just Treacle Tart for me.
*I read this in the midst of a three-week-long barf fest at Casa van Voorhees so my grumpiness at life might have spilled over at Sophie...


Food: Milk pudding (which the idea of offends my sense of texture probably), cornflakes, grilled Dover sole, sherry trifle, hot sausage rolls, mince pies, roast duck and orange sauce, mushrooms in garlic, lemon syllabub, smoked eel on toast, tiny quiche, cheese puffs, baby sausage rolls, creamed chicken soup and potatoes 'whipped to incredible lightness'.

...but in velvet.
Fashion: A notorious heeled lace-up, a quilted rose pink dressing gown, a dark red checked skirt and jacket, a tweed skirt and needlecord jacket, agorgeous midnight blue velvet dress with a low neck, a short dress in a rich mulberry silk, a dark green cowl-neck dress with a pleated skirt.  She briefly regrets that her wedding won't allow for a white satin wedding dress and wears instead, a winter-white dress and coat along with a hat (a velvet trifle decked with pink-tipped feathers), and a long dress of almond-pink chiffon (which would look beastly on me, I just sure of it).  And to contrast the heroine and the female burr under her bustle, Irena wears a scarlet anorak and stretch leggings when she glides effortlessly across the lake and Sophie skids around wearing corduroy slacks and a thick sweater.

14 comments:

  1. Hat. Weddings and hats. I just stumbled upon this interesting page on hats, larded with links, (the page, not the hats) www.weebirdy.com/tag/hobbs. The lady who wrote it seems to be an expatriate Englishwoman in Australia. And just when I started writing this comment (before my mouse slided onto the close button and closed all browser tabs, sigh) I saw our Betty from Perth on the globe.

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    1. slided? tut, tut meant to write slipped, slipped in the d and forgot to erase the rest. Where was my red pen when I needed it?

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  2. George Alexander Louis.
    George and Alexander are Neelsian Hero names.
    There are quite a few Louis' (how do you spell the plural form?) in Neelsdom, but they are usually Louis Quinze and Louis Seize and refer to hideous vases or some such stuff...

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  3. Just saw someone from St Peter Port, Guernsey, on the globe.

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  4. page 116
    He drove her to Leeuwarden in the afternoon, set her down in the centre of the shopping centre, close to the ancient Weigh House, told her that he would wait there for her at four o'clock, and drove himself off to the hospital.

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  5. I'm two weeks behind on my reading (where are my priorities?!)....it's worth noting that this one was sort of hard to finish, great start and then such a draggy, boring middle with silly Sophie twitting around. The inconsistencies really got to me.....if she's got a father with a thriving vet practice and her parents are "well-off", and she's a Sister with no one to support, then why does she live in a dreary flatlet? What happened to Mabel the cat, who disappears after the departure from the flatlet? Why flesh out the characters of so many of the nursing staff, only to drop them like hot coals halfway through the book? It's not uncommon for nurses or siblings to disappear, but I've never before seen a PET disappear in my limited travels through Neelsdom. It's almost like TGB took the first half of one book and the second half of another and kluged them together.

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    1. I'm weeks behind with my reading and writing. sigh
      Why does she live in a dreary flatlet? Her parents are "well-off" but there are three younger brothers. (How much younger are they?) If I am not mistaken the boys all go to boarding school. School fees - there goes the money...
      Sisters don't bring home a lot of "bread" I am afraid and the rents in London...
      I can't afford anything better.

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    2. Yes!!! And Sophie is different after the first third - but so is the writing style . . .

      I also think RDD is too nice too soon.

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  7. Clearly, Betty A. is overworked...

    After returning home, midnightish, she remembered "joyfully" that she still had to peg the rest of the washing. Leaving the first lot on the line, (hey, it was after midnight and she wanted her dinner) she had to take down part of the dry wash of the second lot to make space for more to come. She was hauling out the third batch in blissful silence, sorting the pieces, but it was not until she was pegging towels and shopping bags with the expertise of long practice that a sudden horrible thought came to her. Laura Ashley!!! The link, it was Laura Ashley when it should have been Liberty. Clearly, Betty A. got a little muddled when looking for the google street view of Hobbs, because instead of Hobbs – which is in the building where Liberty used to be – she saw Debenham’s and Laura Ashley and she thought that she must have had the wrong street number and her befuddled brain thought she had found a view of the shop she had been looking for. Mayhap Betty A. set down the little yellow man in the wrong spot?

    Clearly, Betty A. is overworked...

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  8. Betty A. hanging her head in shame, "Let me try this again."

    The afternoon was already darkening, but the shops were glowing with Christmas goods. She spent an ecstatic hour in Culpepper's shop, sniffing at soaps and lotions and choosing carefully, before finding a bookshop where she discovered a newly published suspense novel by her father's favourite author. Liberty's might be a happy hunting ground, and she remembered passing the shop during the morning and on the way she went into Crabtree and Evelyn's and bought more lotions and soaps. Liberty's overflowed with the kind of things she had so often admired but never bought because they were extravagant trifles, and although she longed to have them they weren't actually useful. She let herself go now, telling herself that the lacey beribboned boxes and little dolls, the beflowered photo frames and the delicate scarves were ideal presents for her friends at St Michaels.

    Note: If you step into the crossing at Crabtree and Evelyn’s and turn left you will see Betty’s. Is this the one where you went for tea, Betty Magdalen?

    This is the building where Liberty used to be.

    Note: Culpeper in York is no more...

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