Monday, August 19, 2013

A Matter of Chance

A Matter of Chance is not one of my favorites. Always in the back of my mind while reading this one is: 

1.She just lost BOTH  of her parents.  

Cressy is 26 when her parents kick the bucket. I was 25 when my mother passed - while it wasn't as sudden as the flu, and it was just one parent, it was still tough.  I'm pretty sure that loss at a similar age is what really sways my judgement of this one. I keep wishing Cressy had a better time of it, instead of being dropped into a canal without a life jacket. Literally.

I do not like you Doctor Fell, the reason why I cannot tell...  A Matter of Chance has such an engaging cover and I did so want to love it!

Cressida Bingley, 26, is to be pitied.  If I've done the math correctly, it can't have been much more than six weeks since her father and mother were both carried away by the flu and she's lost and alone on the back streets of Amsterdam in the dwindling evening light.
When a voice speaks behind her it really is the last straw.  'I can't understand you, so do go away!'  All she wants is to be left alone, to nurse her wounds in a safely out of the way place, to begin her job as typist to an elderly Dutch doctor on the following day and 'to drive and drive and drive, away from her grief and loneliness'.  So, no.  Girlfriend doesn't want a pick-up.
That's okay.  Giles van der Teile isn't interested in that either.  Raised as he was, by members of the Dutch Resistance, he probably has helping-British-people-find-their-way-in-Holland encoded on his DNA.  They march to her modest hotel and part ways; she in antipathy, he in the first throes of love-at-first-sight.
On the next day she sets out for her new job and meets the kindly (if scatty) Doctors van Blom and Herrima.  They also have another partner.  (Who could it be?!)
Giles calls their reintroduction 'inevitable' and quickly assures her that he has 'found the girl for myself and intend to marry her.'  Such a fast worker, that Giles.  All that's left is to book the banquet hall and call the preacher, no?  No.  While Giles is amusing himself with sly allusions to his eventual wedding, Cressida mentally stamps his manila folder and files that away for future reference. 
By and by, Giles introduces Monique de Vries into the tangled web of intrigue.  She is nothing more than a Babe (if aging one) and the widow of Giles' best friend.Naturally, Cressida thinks she is the next Mrs. RDD.
We also have the pleasure (for me a qualified one as I suggest The Great Betty was easing her guilty conscience by reassuring us of their HEA) of meeting Harriet and Friso Eijsinck.
As her nurse-ly fingers are tapping away at that manuscript, Cressida begins to notice the curiosity of the practice's set-up.  The 'junior elderlies are doing all the work--exhausting themselves in the process while the easy-living  Giles escorts his girlfriend here and there.   Cresssy's brave enough to take her concerns to Giles and get the snubbing of her young life.
And then the flu hits.  (What a lost opportunity.  Everyone is succumbing like ninepins and Cressida suffers nary a pang that this is the enemy that carried off her beloved parents.)
The elderlies get it and then the housekeeper and finally Cressy falls.  She feels wretched (and he's really very lovely while she's out to it) but congratulates Giles on buckling down and finally doing some work!
And that would be fine if that's all there was but she actually calls him selfish for what she assumes to be a date with Monique in the midst of the crisis.  Jealousy, mis-communication, pride, name-calling.  Shrug.  The washing machine is on the spin cycle.
But Cressy has her Dawning Realization anyway.  (And probably hates herself a little for loving a man who forgets his duties so far as to need reminding of them.)
Why don't you run along and take Cressy to the clinic, son?
It is only when Giles takes Cressy (rhymes with Nessy) to visit his mother that the gyroscope stops spinning.
Future MIL: Hi, Cressy.  I wanted to meet you.
Cressy: I won't spend a minute wondering why...
MIL: My son is an idiot.
Cressy:What a lovely woman you are.
MIL: Look, he's not going to tell you that he's only in with the elderlies as a silent partner because they helped my husband during the war.  And he's not going to tell you about his free slum clinic that he runs that takes all of his time.  And I'm sure he's not going to explain about Monique.
Cressy: About that...
This is going to be a fun mother-in-law.  Between them they ride roughshod over the hapless male (in one of the darlingest scenes) and get him to invite her over to the clinic and out to dinner.  But they never do make it to dinner because, somehow, they always fall out before she gets anything to eat--which is why they have to take their rare dinners together in front of muscled referees.  
After one such meal with Harriet and Friso, they come across a swerving car that lands toot sweet into a deep canal. 

Lives are saved and lost.  Clothes are ruined and it's all worth it (yes, even the death) for the look of outraged horror on Giles face when he realizes that Cressy has been bobbing along gamely in the canal without a working  knowledge of the Australian Crawl.  But, as with Cressy's dear departed (her parents, remember?), the wreckage isn't allowed to clutter up the grassy verge of her mental landscape for long.  She recovers from the ordeal at Giles' home and then installs herself back with the elderlies as soon as may be.
Which works out fine for Giles as I suppose he didn't like to propose to a woman recuperating under his own roof.  That's right.  Propose.  
He does so on the very day that Monique de Vries gets hitched and Cressy is in no mood to accept.
The balance of the rest of the book is:
Cressy wings off to do the heavy lifting...
  • Giles' teasing/pushing/nudging Cressida to make a decision.
  • Cressy refusing to marry a man who doesn't love her back. (She's not cut out for the half-loaf life.)
  • 'I love you, Giles, but you don't love me.  That's why I'm going.'(Followed by a hospital emergency that takes him away.) 
  • Her return to England, followed a week later by Giles--which is when things ought to have been sorted but aren't and he leaves in a huff.  (And I really can't stand them at this point.  They have the stupidest fights ever with very little sympathy for the other.)
  • Her flight to Holland to run him to ground.  'I had to...tell you I was sorry.  I love you, I told you that,...but-- well, it's made my love seem a very poor thing, hasn't it--not worth bothering about.'
He is finally ready to manfully make some declarations and they have at least the same chance that Harriet and Friso had to make a go of it.
The End

Rating: Boy, I hate doing it, but this was Ho-hum and the Cheese Board for me.  Here's what I liked:
  • Cressida is the kind of woman you'd want hauling buckets of hot shot to the guns during a siege war.  She's capable of the 'militant eye' and will not be pushed around.  When Giles is cold or snubbing or glacially angry, she raises an eyebrow and puts him in his place as though he is barely out of short pants and being impertinent.  
  • I adore that she is not above using the presence of his mother to get him to do what she wants.  She is a very clever girl.
  • Giles is not the horror that was Friso Eijsinck (but then, he doesn't have an AC 428 Fastback, so perhaps he felt he had no right to be.) 
And here's what I didn't care for:
  • There were some continuity issues in this one.  At the end, he tells her that she never revealed her belief to him that he was into Monique but she covered that point during the first proposal.  (She all but screamed her anxiety like a fishwife.)
  • I don't know why The Great Betty had to give Cressida such a poignant back-story (Dead parents within the last two months?!  That's heavy.).  It never really gets used (and hardly ever mentioned after the initial exposition) and feels like way too much just to get her to Holland.  Giles spends a paragraph telling her The Heart Must Go On, but even so, when she's so mopey about him in the end I want to yell, 'Remember those parents of yours?  The dead ones?!'
  • Yes, Cressida made a mistake about how much Giles worked but he carried his resentment unnecessarily far, giving her no chance to draw the right conclusions.  And then, when he is vindicated, she doesn't really apologize!  Dirty pool.
  • I never really feel like the momentum gets going.  There are a lot of great elements (Dutch Occupation stories and worldwide flu pandemics are not to be sneezed at.) but they're not strung together to make a pleasing whole...much like the annual Oscar telecast.
So there you go.  Cheese Board. 
P.S. When this plot enjoyed its first go-round on the karmic wheel as Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland, I gave it a slightly higher Mince Pies and I'm afraid it's been too long to remember if I actually like that one better.  I remember the hero as way more jerky but the angst-y-ness surrounding his inability to recognize Harry's vulnerability, shyness and seriousness made it a little more complex.  Cressida is not so crushable as Harry and Giles is not so mean as Friso--and that's the best I remember.

Food: Onion soup, chicken a'la King, trifle, erwten soup, toast and Dundee marmalade, grapes, thin bread and butter. When he refuses to feed her, she is forced to sneak downstairs for a mug of milk and massive slice of bread and gets kissed for her pains.  In a mildly paternalistic action, he implies that her girly taste-buds will be grossed-out by his  'underdone steak' and instead suggests she have Truite Saumonee' au Champagne and chocolate souffle. (Which I don't get at all, really, as my Mijnheer wants his steak to resemble jerky and I prefer that the cow suffer mild blunt-force trauma and be slapped on the plate.)  We also get vol-au-vents stuffed with prawns, iced melon and lobster Thermidor.

Fashion: Girlfriend gets a LOT of use out of tweed skirts and a ubiquitous fur hat (that manages to survive a dunking in an oily canal more or less intact).  Giles wears a car coat.  Cressida also dons a dark green woolen dress, a tweed skirt and angora jumper and she borrows an exquisite nightdress in blue with handmade lace (and he never does tell her that it belongs to his sister or unexpectedly fashionable (if elderly) housekeeper). Giles' mother (recovering from her bout of flu) wears a 'voluminous, long-sleeved, high-necked nightgown of finest silk.