Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Summer Idyll - 1984

For some reason, the plot to A Summer Idyll is very easy for me to remember:
  • Phoebe Creswell (22) is a nurse in training.
  • She's been on a few dates with Houseman Basil even though he is flashy and she is plain.
  • Basil takes her to a party wherein she drinks something that tastes like 'sugared petrol'
  • Basil ditches her so that he can go clubbing
  • Phoebe runs into him at the hospital a couple of days later, he insults her, she slaps him silly. It's official, I like her.
She considers dropping out of her training and starting again at a different hospital, but before she has time to put that plan into effect, Aunt Kate calls Phoebe's boss and demands that Phoebe come and take care of her in her time of need.

Dr. Pritchard channels his
inner stalker.
Phoebe is under no illusion as to how fun this will be (not at all), but it solves her problem rather neatly, so she heads off to Woolpit (yes, Woolpit) the very next day. Aunt Kate makes Attila the Hun seem warm and cuddly.  She has a 'young whipper-snapper' of a doctor.  Dr. George Pritchard (32) may be hot and Phoebe may be plain, but that doesn't stop him from falling for her. She likes him quite a bit, but that's all - as far as she's concerned, he's way out of her league. He, on the other hand, has taken to watching for glimpses of her out his surgery window.

And then Aunt Kate dies.

Even though Phoebe was her only living relative, even though Phoebe was the only one to come and nurse her in her final days...Aunt Kate leaves all of her worldly possessions to charity.  All.  She does mention Phoebe in the will...just to reiterate the fact that Phoebe is to get nothing. No. Thing.

For some reason Basil the Houseman shows up on the doorstep the day after the funeral. Phoebe shuts the door in his not-as-handsome-as-Dr.-Pritchard face after informing him that Aunt Kate didn't leave her any inheritance at all, including the house. Dr. Pritchard watches from his surgery window. Gears are turning in his head - if Phoebe isn't to live in the house, where will she go?

With a few weeks grace period (before the house is sold), Phoebe arms herself with some nursing magazines and starts writing application letters. Before the spit is dry on the stamps, Dr. Pritchard proposes! Editor's Note: I'm going to give him a pass on this MOC. He's in love and doesn't want her tangled up in nurses training somewhere else, possibly far away.

"Thank you George, you're a saint!"
He divulges the fact that he's 32 years old, half-Dutch and his first name is George. Hmm. George.  That brings to mind another guy named George. St. George. You know, that guy who killed a dragon. George Pritchard is not called upon to kill a dragon, but he does wallop a leather-clad biker who is stealing the silver and threatening Phoebe with a flick-knife. Yes, a flick knife. Best fight scene in a Neels, ever. Phoebe even gets a kiss.

Did I mention the implied future conjugal relations? George suggests that they take it slow and get to know each other for a month or so...
Phoebe: After we're married?
George: Yes. I'm quite sure we'll be a happily married couple pretty dang soon.
Happily married couple? George is sure thinking ahead. He proves his foresight again when they go shopping in Cambridge. He practically shoves her into an expensive lingerie shop and tells her to buy three of everything. He's got a twinkle in his eye (probably their firstborn...if you get my drift).

They are married by special licence.
Is there such a thing as too much pink?
Not in Neeldom.

Maybe it was the way he encouraged her to buy unmentionables...maybe it was his heroic gesture in regard to the violent biker...whatever the reason, Phoebe starts imagining a future in which they share the big bedroom at the back of the house.

Two days after the wedding, things start going south.  I mean east. They head off to Holland for 10 days.  They should have gone to Stourhead...relationships are forged and strengthened at Stourhead. Stourhead. Word.

What's that strange hissing sound? It's a snake in the grass named Corina. Corina. I can't say enough bad things about Corina. She monopolizes George - acts like she's his one and only. She flings herself on him at every opportunity. What does George do about it? Nothing. He passively allows Corina to push his brand-new wife away.  It's Corina who puts the beginning seeds of doubt in Phoebe's mind, but I blame George for allowing those doubts to fester.

The one good thing about the trip to Holland is that Phoebe realizes she's in love. And with that realization begins to allow George's cousin, Kasper, to flirt with her. Aargh! I just get frustrated at the amount emotional manipulation going on here. Phoebe is fascinated by Kasper - and blushes whenever his name comes up.  Like she has a guilty secret - which she doesn't! She does cast her good sense to the wind and encourages Kasper a tiny bit when George allows himself to be monopolized by Corina. Again.

A few badly chosen words and Kasper is invited to visit them in Woolpit, come June.

Woolpit(!) is lovely in early summer, George and Phoebe are settling in and finally starting to get to know each other...when here comes Kasper! Oh, and he's brought Corina with him. With enough luggage to stay a month! 

Corina does her best impression of a wolf hunting down a straggling caribou and goes after George with unparalleled single-mindedness. Gone is any chance for Phoebe to have time by herself with George.  Corina has dug herself in for a long spell of trench warfare. Phoebe fights back with strict breakfast hour rules. Seems kind of weak in the face of Corina's blatant artillery, but that's all she's got.  Luckily for her the village of Woolpit experiences it's own little measles epidemic. Corina and Kasper flee the scene.

Time for a happily ever after? No, George suggests that they should drive up to London and have dinner (and dancing) with Corina and Kasper. Phoebe prays for someone in the village to need some urgent medical attention...a fractured femur would be providential. Too bad for Phoebe that the entire village happens to be disgustingly healthy and un-accident prone. The dinner is just as bad as she thought it would be. Corina once again monopolizes George...she is left with Kasper...again.

Back in Woolpit things start to get back to normal...Phoebe sits around knitting, George reads the paper and takes naps in the sun when he's not working. I can see them sliding into Mr. and Mrs. Barcalounger.

Phoebe has time to contemplate the state of the that Corina was gone there would be time for her to get closer to George. She had no idea how to go about it - because she had no sexy little tricks. (To quote The Princess Bride, "I do not think that means what you think that means...")

Time now for a happily ever after? That would just be silly...because just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, it's The Return of Corina.

Not every book in the Canon has an unforgivable line...but many do. In A Summer Idyll it's when George asks Phoebe to apologize to Corina.
Corina was perched on the rent table, with her legs swinging. That she had been talking about Phoebe was obvious from the look of triumph she shot at her as she went into the room. She said at once in a little girl voice: "You see, George, how cross Phoebe looks. She doesn't want me to stay - she said she hadn't invited me..."

He looked up briefly: "You've already said that, Corina, and I'm quite sure that if Phoebe did say that she didn't mean it. My wife would never be inhospitable to our guests." His voice hardened. "And if she did, I'm sure it was inadvertent and she'll apologize."

Corina then proceeds to stay and monopolize George FOR A WEEK!!! She is finally dislodged by a quartet of poisoned kiddies and a missed trip to Cambridge.

After George FINALLY escorts Corina off the premises, all's well that ends well.
"Happen they be in love?"
"Happen they are." Mrs. Thirsk smiled broadly. "And high time too."

A couple of laps around the lake would give
those crazy kids enough time to sort themselves out.
The moral of this story? Visit Stourhead first!

Rating: I really really like the first half of this book - which made the second half much less enjoyable. The second half could have benefited from more bikers and less Corina. I liked George much better in the first half when he was actually doing something.  Once he and Phoebe get married, he turns into just about the most passive hero in Neeldom. He allows Corina full reign to do her worst...public kissing, private rides home, monopolizing a newlywed, etc. His seeming approval of Corina's actions is what drives Phoebe to  allow Kasper to flirt.  Drove me crazy. Of course Phoebe doesn't help matters along by inviting Kasper to visit. I'm as baffled as Phoebe when George says, "I was always under the impression that a girl knew when a man was in love with her - you're the exception to the rule." Really? Did he read that in a book? A girl knows when a man is in love with her? How was she supposed to know? 
The first half of the books is a Queen of Puddings for me.  The second half merely rates a Cheese Board.  I'd say it averages out to a helping of Mince Pies
Food: A drink that tastes like sugared petrol, tiny sausage rolls, tiny vol-au-vents, smoked salmon on slivers of brown bread and butter. Aunt Kate has fish in milk, egg custard and coddled eggs. Mrs. Thirsk is famous for her rabbit stew with dumplings. For her first dinner party, Phoebe makes watercress soup, ribs with little cutlet frills covering the charred ends, saffron rice and pavlova. Mrs. Thirsk prepares lunch that includes tomato soup, lamb chops and a 'green salad ice cream' for afters. I couldn't find any recipes for green salad ice cream. I'm wondering if it was a punctuation error. 
Fashion: green jersey separates bought at the January sales, worn with a velvet jacket - it was the wrong outfit to wear to a party where all the other girls were wearing slinky black dresses with deep vee necklines and no backs worth mentioning.  A grey wool dress that did nothing for her, a dull brown dress that wasn't any better. Shopping trip to Cambridge where she not only gets a load of new lingerie, she also gets pink satin high heel bedroom slippers.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    I felt the same way you did. The first half was great! Loved that dear Phoebe actually smacked Basil! And the dastardly biker silver thief bit with George to the rescue. Just great! and oh my! the shopping trip o' love--what fun. Corina and Kasper were fun at first, but we had to put up with them waaaay too long. And Corina's final visit-where she invited herself to stay-was a bit over the top.
    The apology scene didn't bother me too much, as Phoebe's apology was lukewarm and Corina had to do without breakfast in bed.
    What irked me was George's statement at the end that he flirted with Corina to make Phoebe jealous! Oh yes! He said that!! While other RDDs/REDs have said worse (much worse), that is still a statement that deserves a mighty put down!

  2. Come on, you two. Give poor George a break. He was a smitten kitten from the start. That's what I love about this one - he is actually "stalking" her like a teenager(how many other RD1/2Ds watch our plain Jane through their windows?)Even Corinna doesn't bother me. After all Phoebe invited them in the first place out of spite! We all know how badly that ends up.

  3. There has to be a term (other than the generic "plot device") for the opposite of a deus ex machina. Diabolus ex machina ... or in this case, Veronica ex machina!

    In other words, George is confident that they'll be a "happily married couple" within a month and Phoebe is already eying the master bedroom, so without a Veronica ex machina, what's to keep these people from making out like a couple of stoats? Nothing, that's what.

    It reminds me -- and I should say in advance I've been awake for over 18 hours at this point, so I'm a bit muzzy -- of that joke where the newly married couple goes to see the vicar. "We were told something wonderful would happen on our wedding night, so we stayed up waiting..."

    George and Phoebe would have done very nicely on their own in Woolpit (they didn't even need Stourhead) but it wouldn't have taken them long to figure out what they were waiting for -- and that would have been a very short MOC and thus a very short book indeed.

    Oh, and Betty Debbie -- with the exception of the Pre-Raphaelite painting of St. George, those have to be the most disturbing photos in TUJD history. The pink girdle alone is going to haunt my dreams.

  4. I really like this one. It just seems refreshingly different from some of the others... can't put my finger on just why though. I agree that Corina gets old. Kasper never does bother e too much, it's easy to see he isn't really interested in Phoebe, but that Phoebe, grr. It takes George too long to see through her.
    Wish I was as pithy as some of you, but LaNeels is usually just an escape for me!

  5. One of my all time favourites. George is the absolute bestest and Phoebe is priceless. La Neels at her very best. The energy between them is almost real...

  6. We agree with Magdalen, that without the checklist of events, George and Phoebe would have the shortest MOC in all of Neelsdom.

    It is not without its charm, but it simply doesn't have the memorable line or that satisfying stolen kiss.

    Any one else get the vibe that Woolpit has a creepy underbelly? 'Mrs Thirsk came right into the room, beaming. 'Well, I never did! If that isn't as good a piece of news as I've heard for I don't know how long!' She shook hands with them both. 'And won't the village be pleased! Took to you, they have,' she explained to Phoebe, 'just the wife for the doctor'. Shudder.