Monday, July 4, 2011

Making Sure of Sarah - Reprise

Sometimes I just need a short read - not War and PeaceMaking Sure of Sarah (a novelette, not a full lengther) fills the bill nicely.  I adore the fact that La Neels has the hero falling in love fast and hard - and we get to be fully privy to it. Not only that, but Sarah gets a real wedding to boot.  Sweet. - Betty Debbie

Forgive the tarted up cover. Grab a book cover. And sit yourself down for one of Betty Neels' most delightful little novelettes.

Sarah Beckwith, 23, is one of the luckiest heroines you're ever likely to meet, blessed as she is with plain looks (the Araminta), a swearing stepfather, a vague and smothering mother, and a life of servile drudgery. Lucky, you say? Yes. Because our hero meets her as she's asleep on a chair in Casualty, drenched in canal water (which Betty Neels was never romantic about) and smelling vile.

Mr. Litrik ter Breukel, 35, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon for St. Bravo's in Arnhem, Holland whose main occupation, you might be forgiven for thinking, is to wait around until the girl of his dreams drops pungently into his lap.

He's immediately in love (I mean before she's even opened her eyes) and while this has happened with great regularity in the world of La Neels it is usually disclosed on page 218 in an offhand manner ("I loved you the first time I saw you darling but don't lets mind about that now when we only have two more paragraphs to conclude the formalities..."). In this one though, Neels sticks with him like a limpet and Gentle Readers are treated to a Litrik who is perpetually delighted, gobsmacked and transported by the fact that Sarah is in the vicinity. --Which leads to wonderful lines like:

He had no intention of letting her go, and for once a kindly Fate lent a helping hand; Sarah gave a small choking gasp. 'I'm going to be sick...'
...they made polite conversation...Mr. ter Breukel listened to her voice entranced; as far as he was concerned she could recite the multiplication tables and he would find it exciting..."

He also spends a good deal of time struggling to rearrange his features into less lover-like expressions and plotting his future with ruthlessness and zero discretion. Everyone--his sister Suzanne, his great-Aunt, her middle-aged companion, her family doctor and another English specialist--will all figure out easily that Litrik is planning to carry Sarah off at her earliest convenience. As you can see, Litrik is not our average stoic hero with unreadable expressions.

He engineers a job for her after her parents are laid up at a hospital in Holland and then keeps an eye on her when she removes the grouchy invalids back to their house in Clapham Common. Sarah is portrayed as much put-upon but the house has a housekeeper, a woman to come in and do the rough and (while the step-father is laid-up) a male nurse to come in for several hours a day. Still, she has to help with the cooking and ironing and fetching and carrying so I suppose she doesn't have much time to herself even if it doesn't sound like there's much to do.

She meets a young doctor named Robert Swift who serves to muddy the water (but not for long).

Instead of marrying her out of hand, Litrik decides that young and cooped-up as she is she would do well to have a job and meet some people her own age. To that end he compromises the medical ethics of himself and at least one other doctor by arranging for the parents to go to Bournemouth for several months and for the hospital (where he is a consultant) to give her a job in the canteen. Why the canteen? He's got his reasons:

The kitchens wouldn't do at all, and nor would the house doctors' quarters; he wasn't so old that he couldn't remember that young housemen tended to relax like small boys when they had the chance...

Which is all very tricksy if you think about it. Let her have a taste of life but make it working slavishly in a hospital canteen nowhere near high-spirited young lads who might take it in their mind to ask her out on a date. I think that's what's called 'priming the pump'. And of course she must be rescued before developing varicose veins. After an altercation with 'youths' in a 'demonstration' (a great evil to be avoided)he proposes a sensible arrangement whereby he marries her.

Of course she can't! Because by now she loves him too and marrying someone whom you love who doesn't love you back...unthinkable! Which is a puzzler for me where Betty Neels is concerned as this rule is by no means philosophically consistent throughout her body of work.

She works out the refusal thus: She must think up some really good reason--a career in something or other--computers.
I do love it when La Neels wanders cryptically onto the computers reservation.

She leaves the hospital when her parents make their vacation a permanent arrangement (Yay!) and finds work re-shelving cans in a grocery store. Well, we all know how re-shelving jobs go. He, like all Neels heroes and in rather a paternalist move, resigns her position with the manager, whisks her back home and does a serious proposal this time. Eureka! She accepts. Her engagement ring is a sapphire and diamond affair.
The End

Rating: Queen of Puddings. This novel, sprinkled about with Litrik's delighted plotting, is as cute as a button. It's only around a hundred pages, so moves along at a pretty nice clip. Though at the end she tends to throw everything and the kitchen sink in, red-herring housemen, dead end jobs, imminent homelessness...

Food: koffietafel, sole with champagne sauce, pancakes stuffed with goat cheese, chocolate and almond pudding, apple turnovers and steak and kidney pie

Fashion: trousers(!) and a pink sweater, brackish canal-water soaked dress, an unflattering all-purpose jersey dress--dare I think uncrushable?

Authors mentioned: Ruth Rendell, Jack Higgins, P.D. James, Evelyn Anthony, Freeling


  1. I re-read this one and finished last night. The first read must have been eons ago, cuz I didn't remember a thing. I love it when that happens! This one is really different. I do like it, but it's so different, I'm thinking 'ghost writer' or a brutal editor. Could Prof. Smythe be our dear Oliver Hay-Smythe who married dear Bertha about four years before? He's a RBD and 4 years is plenty of time to have 2 kids with one on the way. I had all three born in four years!
    I'm imagining all the nice things Bertha would have said to Sarah that went on the cutting floor to get it down to 100 pages.
    And is their such a thing as a benevolent stalker, because if Sarah wasn't liking the attention, this guy would be in jail, me thinks.
    But I liked in anyway.
    And I don't even want to think about how vile the Goldrick book is that followed it. ICK!

  2. I don't think I've read this one which is quite a big deal as I think I've read just about all of them. Sadly, I'd have to pay an arm and a leg for an "acceptable" copy on Amazon. One can only just imagine the marginalia!! Oh, well... perhaps it will be reissued....

  3. Ilana, I have an extra copy of this I will gladly share. Can you send me a private message if you want it?