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.


  1. A Matter of Chance has the coolest aunt in the canon, Aunt Emily. Bar none. Granted, she's only in the last chapter and only for a couple of pages, but she is the best.

    "Have you had a tiff with that nice-looking man who just plunged out of the front door?" "Plunged." What a great descriptive word, especially for leaving a house.

    Then, after Cressida runs to the kitchen to cry her eyes out, Aunt Emily goes and sits down with her knitting, thinking that since Cressida had no interest at the moment in lunch, she digs through her knitting bag and begins to nibble on a half-eaten chocolate bar while she waits.

    Then later, after Cressida decides to go to Holland, Aunt Emily whips out her trusty, handy-dandy, all-purpose timetable which has the bus schedules to London and then Heathrow, and most conveniently, airline flight schedules from Heathrow to Groningen. She writes down the appropriate times, gives them to Cressida, and tells her to dash up to the Post Office and phone for reservations.

    Too cool. Love. Her.

  2. This is one of the few Betty books that I have read only once. I keep telling myself to read it again. I will. Someday. I just read Roses Have Thorns for the thousandth time, at least. Yes, I still teared up when portly Charles was in the rabbit noose. So why can't I bring myself to read this one again?

    Betty AnoninTX

    1. Well, dear Betty AnoninTX, perhaps you should just read it again NOW that we are discussing the book and perhaps you will be surprised and it will be much better than you remembered. Within the last year, I have re-read a few Betty books - A few? Who am I kidding? Dozens and dozens. - and discovered that a few of them that I thought boring were nothing of the sort but glorious entertainment, Betty at her best.

      I had the hardest time finding the A Matter of Chance on my (mostly) Betty shelf, late last night. (Shhhhh, Betty A. hasn't done her homework...) I looked through all the piles at least three times (more like five) and could not find it!!! FRUS-trating. I knew it had to be there. And then I looked behind the pile on the left. There was a hollow, and there, at the very back, I saw three more Betty books lying flat in their own little pile making themselves small. And one of these books was #40 A Matter of Chance. Phew!

    2. I'll be strong and force myself to read it again. Someday... ;)

      Betty AnoninTX

    3. Betty Barbara here--
      Taking the opposite view point. 'Too many books, too little time' is my motto. Betty AnoninTX, use your time wisely, for what suits you best. I did skim through this one,to refresh my memory, wasn't really interested, and went on to read something that did grab me. If you feel you have to 'force' yourself to read a book, then it is rarely worth your time and effort. So sayeth Betty Barbara.

    4. However, by skimming through the book one may miss the true highlights, the bettyest moments, the most neelsian whimsies. So muttereth and mumbleth Betty A.

  3. I couldn't remember it by the title so I re-read it. I was struck that this was one of the few (only?) RDDs who comes across as really immature (not icky immature just young-ish immature). He's miffed that she thinks the worst of him, but it never occurs to him that he rarely gives her much reason to do otherwise. That's why the scene where his mom treats him like a recalcitrant son and he basically pouts is so funny. He can only sorta read Cressida's mind in typical RDD fashion; he misses the important other half.

    I like it because it's a different RDD--one whom you don't want to fall in love with (Julius or Lauris or Christian), rather you think he needs a spanking (and I don't mean THAT kind). Some you may want to slap up-side the head at times (Uncle Valentijn) or, in the case of Nasty Reilof, kick in the n__ts, but Giles is a bit juvenile, if still reasonably charming. I felt like a big sister to him. It's the only one I can think of for whom I feel that way.

    1. Yes, Giles can be charming if he wants to be. Quite often, however, he appears to be rude. No form of greeting when he comes, no goodbye when he leaves.

      The coffee scene in the morning is just great. Funny. He enters, makes the nose-to-the-grindstone remark, Juffrouw Naald steams in with a tray. There are two cups on the tray and you just know what's coming. Except, TGB ups it by letting him say, 'You pour', which I thought pretty rude. Then Cressida tells him she'll have her coffee later and thinks, 'and why shouldn't he pour his own coffee?' And I thought, 'Exactly my thinking.'

      Giles sometimes makes these "strange" remarks.
      But my dear girl, it was inevitable.
      The reader knows what he means but poor Cressida does not. You would think she would catch on, as time goes by, but she doesn't. And, in all fairness, we cannot blame her since he told her he'd found the girl for himself and he intended to marry her. Typical RDD mistake.

      Cressida thumped her desk with a furious fist. 'You are extremely rude — you could at least treat me with common courtesy!'
      He paused to look at her, his head a little on one side. 'No, I don't think I could do that.'

      Which is kind of cute but not very helpful romantic-wise.

    2. Actually, I thought that the most un-RDD moment in Neelsdom (and VERY juvenile) was when he entered and SLAMMED out of Aunt Emily's house with nary a greeting for Auntie Em. His nanny would be shocked (or perhaps not). Like I stated, he may be the youngest-acting RDD in The Canon.

    3. Nope, got to give him a pass on this one. Giles had not met or even seen Aunt Em -- she was upstairs during the whole time he was in the house talking to Cressida, and Aunt Em only saw him from her upstairs bedroom window.

  4. Due to So sayeth Betty Barbara's comment I started re-reading again and I should have kept a notepad & pencil at the ready to chalk up the truly Neelsian gems. Mixing my metaphores? Or just my writing utensils? Anyway, I never gave it any thought - no, what I mean is I never gave Juffrouw Naald any thought and she may just be one of the loveliest housekeepers in the Canon.

    Juffrouw Naald translates to Miss Needle.
    Naaldtje (naaldje) = little needle! Isn't that cute?!!

    'Go on,' he urged her, 'be a dear kind girl.' He lifted the lid of the dish on the tray. 'Buttered toast—bless old Naaldtje!' Cressida picked up the coffee-pot,[...]

    'She is also very romantic; she has been trying to find me a suitable wife for the last ten years. She contrives to bring to my notice every likely female she happens to approve of and offer them for my inspection. I rather fancy that you are the latest.' Cressida choked into her coffee.

    Cressida heard his almost silent step on the stair, Juffrouw Naald's fierce whisper, the clink of cup on saucer and then the closing of the front door. His steps sounded louder in the square outside as he walked the few yards to Mevrouw

    What a treasure!

  5. She has a complete set of first edition Betty Neels — real collectibles, valuable — all the ones about English nurses who marry Dutch doctors, more than forty titles, I think. Susie's awfully proud of it. She invited him to come see it. He was real happy to find out that in three hundred fifty years the Dutch and the English would still have their countries and their languages and their churches and live in peace and have good hospitals and not be harried by the Spanish Inquisition like the remnants of the Waldensians. Susie hasn't found out what a Waldensian was yet, but whatever happened to them, it wasn't good."
    Kelley was forced to pause for breath. Maxine interrupted. "They're real respectable classics, too — not like some of the newer ones. No sex at all until the nurse and doctor get married and not very much after they do. Lots of descriptions of houses and furniture and landscapes. Shopping trips for new clothes. Pictures of ancestors on the wall. Being nice to your stepchildren. He thought that the Calvinist preachers would OK them just fine."
    Kelley regained the initiative. "When he went back to Holland, a publisher up there sent a guy down to copy her whole set. They're going to publish them in English for export to London and translate them into Dutch. So we thought, if Susie can sell those, why can't we sell the rest of them? And we did. To the highest bidder. That's all there is to it."

    excerpt from:
    Ring of Fire, Sequels to 1632, Edited and created by Eric Flint

    I was looking for an expression I thought TGB had used in her books. Couldn't find it. But I found this instead.