Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Girl to Love - 1982

Wow. I didn't remember liking this book - that may be in part to the depressing looking couple on the cover. But oh, my stars and garters, it was fun...and different. Very different. How? Let's dig in.

Sadie Gillard is a fairly typical Araminta. At 23 years old, she is a bit on the youngish side, but she does have mousy hair, plain face and fine eyes, and yes, she's an orphan with no real marketable skills. Grandma has just died and left her with nearly nothing. The charming, but old-fashioned thatched cottaged has to be sold and the best Sadie can hope for is a job as a housekeeper or mother's helper. I know, I know, you're saying, 'Betty Debbie, that is absolutely classic Neels'. Well, yes, but now it gets different.

The house is sold immediately and for full market price (obviously a better economic climate than now) a playwright. You heard me. A playwright. He's probably the oddest hero in Neeldom. What makes him so different? Let me count the ways.

  1. Oliver Trentham has no medical connection whatsoever. None.
  2. Writes screenplays for television. Television.
  3. Long and lean. Lean, not vast.
  4. Has two daughters, ages 5 and 7.
  5. Has only been a widower for about 3 years!
  6. Drives too fast.
  7. Drinks too much.
  8. Employs an abusive governess.
  9. He is rather irascible. Or do I mean explosive?
  10. Works with rather a fast crowd back in London.
Not Betty's usual cup of tea. In fact, on the surface he doesn't sound that appealing. This is not one of those love at first sight stories...for Sadie or Oliver. But that's a good thing. Especially since they spend a few weeks living together unchaperoned. Unchaperoned? Yes, Sadie has stayed on at the quaint thatched cottage as housekeeper - a job she is uniquely qualified for, since she's lived there for the past twenty years.

Sadie is an unlikely looking housekeeper - for one thing she's way younger than Oliver expected, and he's inclined to let her go...until he gets a chance to sample her cooking. Girlfriend can cook. It only takes two meals and he's hooked. Conditionally. The conditions are thus: She must eat meals with him and he'll lug in the coal and logs.

The days pass with Sadie cooking and cleaning, Oliver typing and drinking..and bellowing when he wants something.

Rather than do a detailed synopsis of the rest (hey, I just got back from Hawaii on Tuesday...) I'll just give a few highlights of the rest of the plot.

Miss Murch and The Girls arrive at the Thatched Cottage.
Miss Murch exposed as the wicked liar that she is!!
Christmas Morning on Sadie's Bed.
Sadie Goes to London.
London doesn't agree with Sadie - or the girls.
Oliver takes a trip to GREECE to 'think things over' (leaving Sadie with the girls, who promptly get the flu).
Oliver dates several 'pretty ladies'.
Happily Ever After in a little Thatched Cottage.

Editor's Note: Sadie and Oliver won't have a traditional he ages he will become a 'peppery' old man who is a little too fond of whiskey. Sadie will spend her time cooking nourishing meals that sop up alcohol and replacing his shot glass with cups of cocoa. After a year or two Oliver will stop writing screenplays for love stories and focus on documentaries about plant life and ancient stone-napping techniques - any subject that won't require casting calls for starlets. Sadie will remind Oliver about his parenting responsibilities and tiptoe around the house in felt slippers, shushing the kids, when he's writing. Of course, this is all my opinion. What do you think?

Rating: I wouldn't recommend this book for a 'comfort read'. A Girl to Love is quite an outlier in the Neels canon. That said, I really, really enjoyed it. Perhaps because it's so different. Sometimes I really struggle to get through my 'assigned' reading each week. This week I zipped through it in two hours. That's two hours with notes. Two hours when I should have been packing for Hawaii. Perhaps I was just avoiding chores, but even if I was, it was an enjoyable way to do it. I readily acknowledge that there are many imperfections, but they just didn't fuss me all that much. I think I'll give this one a boeuf en croute.
Food: Queen of Puddings, scones, fruit cake, steak and kidney pudding, mackerel pâté, Welsh rarebit, cocoa for supper to counteract the whiskey, rice pudding - creamy and stuffed with raisins, stuffed celery, sausage rolls, vol-au-vents, cheese straws, Oliver comes home from a date with a vegetarian surfeited with nut cutlets and bean shoots.
Fashion: Two severe nylon overalls which Oliver bans her from wearing, a pair of serviceable felt slippers, green tweed coat and martching skirt and beret, sapphire blue wool dress, sensible pink winceyette nightie, a Christmas gift from Oliver of an amber silk crêpe blouse and matching skirt, a glowing green organza party dress.


  1. I read an article a while ago about married men living a fair bit longer than single ones and I think this book exactly describes why. She's going to have quite a job extending his lifeline...

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    I really enjoyed this one, but will admit that it had the least Neels-like hero. But other than Oliver's profession and his drinking(oh!my!Betty!!)--the rest of the cast and action was classic Neels.
    The awful Miss Murch and her eye-on-the-prize attitude and cruelty to the children have shown up in other governesses in the Canon. Likewise, dear old dad's total obliviousness to same.
    I did like that he seemed to enjoy his children, once Miss Murch was removed from the equation. And he abandoned them for press tours and pretty girls with about the same frequency that the dear doctors went on lecture tours and dated pretty girls.
    Even his grouchiness is shared by several other Neels heroes--the doctors hid in their studies a lot as we all know!
    And Sadie is classic Neels nurturing heroine.

    I think you grade is a fair one. And you are right, it isn't a comfort read, but it is worth a re-read.
    He is obviously making good money at his screen-writing (the car, the house, the foreign trips)--so I see a sound-proof addition to the cottage where he can do his writing in peace and Sadie and the children can lead a life with a bit of normal noise. As to what he will be writing? Your guess is as good as mine...
    But Sadie will have to keep an eye on him to make sure he eats right and keeps the drinking to a minimum.

  3. Sounds to me like Betty was tackling the proverbial bad boy and didn't quite pull it off. From your description, he doesn't end up sufficiently reformed.

  4. There are so many references to Marks and Spencer in this one that I would be suspecting our authoress of blatant product placement if this had been written in the past 20 years. Having lived in the Scottish Highlands for eight years, though, I can relate to Sadie's firm belief that anything worth having can be procured at M&S.

    The screenwriter does seem different from the usual hero, I don't think he's such a bad boy. The drinking and driving makes me cringe, though.

  5. Fun factoid -- I didn't know this, but according to my Dickens-mad Brit Hub 2.1, anytime a character in Dickens has a surname that starts with Mer or Mur (e.g., Miss Murdstone in David Copperfield), there's more than a little connection to the French word, merde, telegraphing to the reader that it's going to be a crappy person.

    Have we thought at all about the books that La Betty read herself? I'm thinking Dickens has to have been on the list.

  6. "Fun factoid -- I didn't know this, but according to my Dickens-mad Brit Hub 2.1, anytime a character in Dickens has a surname that starts with Mer or Mur (e.g., Miss Murdstone in David Copperfield), there's more than a little connection to the French word, merde, telegraphing to the reader that it's going to be a crappy person."

    Bwa ha ha ha, I almost snorted tea out my nose!!!
    I do remember reading this one, once, but couldn't find it to reread this week. I'll keep looking, but I remember it as being unmemorable.

  7. Betty Barbara here--

    And yet, with Our Betty's habit of re-using names, it does not pay to leap to conclusions. In one of her other books (sorry, didn't note it down, so the title is currently lost), Miss Murch is the name of our dear doctor's ever so nice and ever so efficient motherly office manager/secretary!

  8. I was thrilled to find a Marks and Spencer on our first trip to London. I happily wandered around, I know I bought something, digestive biscuits, maybe?

  9. Marks & Spencer is a very British institution even though their current chairman Marc Bolland is Dutch (!) and does look a little like a slightly older version of a RDD.

  10. Is knowing the chairman of Marks and Spencer a common bit of knowledge, Betty Birgit?--similar to knowing who Steve Jobs is or (in the case of Oregon economics) knowing that Phil Knight is the head of Nike?--or do you have to be reading the business section?

  11. This could be our Oliver, Betty Birgit. Not medical, not vast, drinks too much - well at least in this photo. And catch the second headline. BettyKeira. Sounds like he's on the society pages, too.,business,marc-bolland-appointed-marks-and-spencer-chief-executive

  12. This was one of my favorite books, and I think, my first.
    The reason it always drew me was the fact that she was such a workaholic.
    From 6:00 a.m. until the time she went to bed, she worked non-stop around the thatched cottage. In addition, she weeded, she dug potatoes, she cleaned the shed, she polished and dusted all the furniture, she moved furniture. Not to mention she cooked from scratch difficult dishes that take a long time to do and require patience!!!!! Ayi!

    So I very much admire her, and wish I could do as much, patiently, but can never hope to achieve it!

  13. "A Girl to Love" is in my top five; maybe top three. I cannot believe you ghastly cynics ;-) think darling Oliver will continue to drink excessively after he finds true love with blissful Sadie. (Sadie! great name! So solidly Anglo-Saxon and unpretentious!) The poor thing is clearly staunch and good to the core, wishing pathetically to write about True Love, and "A Girl to Love" (the name of the screenplay currently underway), whilst having personal experience of selfish, avaricious and deceptive love and friendship with his late wife and fast London crowd. He's brooding and melancholy, and any one of us might drink a bit much (except the Mormons, I suppose - what do you do instead?) and drive a bit fast under similar circumstances. How about Heathcliff, eh?

    Thatch, sausage rolls, and a vigorous tromp across muddy country in Wellingtons amongst the yeoman peasantry brings Oliver to his senses quickly enough, and while he tries to fight fate with trips to Greece (wrong place to go to fight fate, surely?) and fast London cocktail parties, Sadie's kind heart wins out over all coronets, as it should.

    Also, I love his hesitant attempts to connect with his darling little daughters. Plus bonus points for the quintessential English country Christmas of the 1940s. And Oliver's lovely sister. And Sadie's triumph over the hideous Miss Merde. I could go on. I'll stop.

    -Betty van den Betsy

  14. Am I the only one bothered that neither of them said, "I love you" to the other?

    Otherwise, one of my top 10.

  15. Re reading this was interesting. I thought it only so so when I first read it. a long time ago. It dusts up better after that long time.