Saturday, September 30, 2017

Heatherleigh (New Zealand Inheritance)--1957

Welcome to our new series on the novels of Essie Summers! If you're following along at home, I'll be reading these in order (Though, as soon as my copy of The Essie Summers Story arrives, I am going to inhale that like the last Snicker bar before a 30-day sugar detox.) and when I get a second, I'll be putting a handy tab up at the top of the page with a list of books and links to the reviews. 

I'll try out a few companion videos--I'd love to have a solid slate of Summers reviews on Youtube because I can pop them up pretty quickly and it would show me how I might do a similar treatment for The Neels Canon. But if they don't add anything, I will not force it. I am a leaf on the wind, as they say.

For the long-suffering Betties for whom Essie Summers is not the droid they are looking for, I thank you for your forebearance and will try my hardest to post about The Great Betty as often as possible. 

Now, may we all join hands, make a wish and jump into this adventure together?

"...the years lessen as we grow older--
that where once we were man and child,
now we are man and woman." 
Heatherleigh may be the first of Essie Summers's novels but it's the product of a honed talent. I imagine that when the manuscript first crossed the desk of Humperdink Boon, he swiveled around in his office chair and slapped Ferdinand Mills on the back. By jingo, they had a winner!

There are four characters in Heatherleigh named Robert.

  • Old Robert (called Grandy which I cannot in good conscience countenance) who owns the massive Heatherleigh estate. 
  • Dead Robert who is a minor character and one of Grandy's three deceased sons. Causes of death include: riding accident, casualty of war and drunken brawl. (Raise a glass.). 
  • Poetical Robert (Robert Burns) whose works are romantically quoted by a hot Scot on the neighboring estate. 
  • and Little Roberta, 25, and not so little anymore. She is the scion of the Heatherleigh family and only grandchild of Grandy. (shudder) I am delighted to tell you that her career is as a commercial artist, producing...corset illustrations!
Bearded Robert came to the casting call only to be told
they had filled their quota of Roberts.
Roberta's parents have died and, though they weren't on keeping-in-touch terms with the home estate, she's decided to come back to the only stable foundation she's ever known. Mind you, this foundation is constructed atop the dubious platform of just one one-month visit made when she was 12. But if a 28 day stint in rehab can change a life, who am I to raise a skeptical eyebrow?  

The memories she made were good ones and revolve around three people:

  • Cousin George, her one-time playmate. His surname is Heatherleigh but he belongs to a distant branch of the family. This does not stop him from using the estate as his home and having an opinion about the running of it.
  • Marie, the older and wiser girl. She is a cold, stone fox and Roberta Cannot.With.Her. 
  • Muir Buchanan. When she was the coltish 12-year-old, he was the 20 year old shepherd and hot Scot (Are you tired of this already? Too bad. Hot Scot. Hot Scot. Hot Scot.) tasked with keeping her out of mischief. Apropos of nothing, isn't it fortunate that Buchanan is such a nice name? 
Though Roberta thinks 'it would be fun to meet Muir again', all is not as she left it. Georgie, once a nature-loving, 'braw laddie', has grown a bit hard and grumpy-pants. Marie, once easy to dismiss as a scheming bubble-head, has nursed Old Robert recently and works as a matron for a boys orphanage. (Deliciously, this does not make Roberta suddenly like her.)

Roberta was a confirmed Marie-skeptic.
But it's Muir that makes Roberta the most uncomfortable. (Why can't he just stay where he was so that Roberta can be sentimental and nostalgic about him?) Once upon a time, he was just her grandfather's shepherd (Farm boy, fetch me that pitcher.) but here he is, wandering out in the moonlight to smell the wildflowers she's gathered and hinting at the lonely years. He was good before--strong, stoic, straight-shooting--but now? Well, ladies, it's like what they say about really good chicken salad. The secret is in letting it sit.

Muir has turned into a man of many and varied parts (All of them hot. #hotScot). The House Tour of Love is enough to tell her that. He lives in a home with a young Dutch orphan he's taken in out of the goodness of his heart, the place is neat as a pin and, to cap it all off, his house is stuffed with books. Does a man like that even need a woman? To answer that impertinent question, he marches her into the empty master bedroom (and adjacent nursery) that he has not dared occupy alone, and says, "A man doesn't just want a wife to bake girdle scones and oatcakes and sweep his floors, Roberta."

Oh my gosh, you guys.
He said that in the bedroom.
The sexual tension is so thick you could spread it on toast, so what is the hold up? Here darlings, is where we get the Misunderstanding. When Muir is called away, Roberta does a spot of snooping (as one does) and finds a broken picture frame with a photograph of Marie in it, stuffed into a drawer. Now the empty bedroom feels less like A Harbinger of Rather Nice Conjugal Relations To Come and more like A Shrine to Saint Marie.

Things eddy on for a while as Roberta and Muir get to know one another. George kisses her and Muir sees. Marie arrives and Roberta is a wee bit catty which I love, actually. (Heroines are often so 'good' and Roberta is just human, here.) Roberta overhears a not-at-all incriminating conversation between Old Robert and Muir that leads her to think he's after Heatherleigh so she's upset and hurt.

And then she sees him completely naked.

Essie Snelson Summers!
Young lady, you march in here this minute!

And she makes a pretty thorough job of it. He's not just swimming but diving too--over and over again. And, unless the sun was super-sized and right at his back, and she was a fair distance away... You can see that I've been manfully trying to work out the math. It is clear that she did not see then pivot.

Now I know what you're thinking. It's a mighty convenient time for a Dawning Realization. And it does happen--but not because of his drawer-less-ness. That whole thing is treated as a hilarious joke (really, hardly anything about it that feels fraught with longing for a trip to Brighton) and also touches on her career as an artist. You know. Form. Fluidity. That sort of thing.

Roberta was inspired. Very.
But then he kisses her (with pants!) and, Holy Cats, the realization that he is the man she has been waiting for is like an avalanche that knocks her over and stuffs itself into her gloves and ears and nose. There is no rescue beacon strong enough to dig her out of this one. She is sure he feels the same way, somehow, so it is all the more heartbreaking when he says the wrong thing afterward. (And thank goodness or else we only get a 66 page book). Let's see if we can forgive him, shall we?

"Well, if George can kiss you, so can I!"

It's not Peak Cad, certainly, but it's going to take a fair amount of Best Practises to get him out of that hole. Unfortunately, Roberta is not in a forgiving mood. She's decided he must only be interested in the estate (and will dump his true love, Marie, to get it) and hatches a plot (oh dear, these never turn out well) to lead Muir on, secure a proposal and then tell him the exact GPS location wherein he may put that proposal. Hint: It's very dark there.

So we've got an Active Wooing situation and he asks her out on a Date--a complicated process for a farmer in the back of beyond with power failures and a stoat attack to contend with--and she comes over to help out with dinner and do more snooping (because if you can't Facebook stalk someone, the least you can do is rifle through their drawers). In Muir's bedside table she finds a miniature painting of herself that her father did years ago for Grandy (ugh).

She decides that instead of Muir having it because he wants it, he has it because Grandy Old Robert is trying to further their romance. He wants Muir to inherit Heatherleigh, see?

No. I don't see. This is Roberta's big problem. Forgive me for a little science digression: Occam's Razor suggests that "among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected". Roberta doesn't have crappy conclusions to all the things she gets wrong. But it's always the second most likely hypothesis. I shall call this: Roberta's Razor.
Muir is a fantastically good date, makes excellent conversation and even plays the piano. But Roberta is surprised that her grandfather's shepherd should wash up so well.
"Completing your education?" asked Roberta. "I rather like to think of people doing that."
Muir brushed that aside. "I had to achieve some polish," he said, "to fit into the world you live in at Heatherleigh."

It could come off as creepy but it doesn't, mostly because Muir, unlike, say, Jay Gatsby in his pursuit of Daisy, actually bothers to read the books in his library. I should go ahead and tell you now that he thought of her enough these long (lonely, let me remind you) years that he was on the point of running off to find her. He had, as Old Robert tells her in the end, "...a fancy to see what sort of a woman you had grown into."

Again, Roberta's Razor makes a pass and she only sees that he wanted polish so that he could become a New Zealand land baron. But can you see what the stakes are for him? Why he didn't just cancel on the Date when everything went so wrong? Why he was willing to drive 80 miles one way just to see a play? Why he made that light-hearted remark after their kiss? It all matters so much to him and he is terrified that it's all going to go pear-shaped.

The next parts of the book are a long march through The Awesomeness of Muir Buchanan. He grows unprofitable government wheat because of humanitarian reasons, you guys. He stops George from running a 'sly-grog' because Old Robert lost his son in a drunken brawl. He even dances with wallflowers and finds them partners.

I hate when Muir is on the upswing because that only means that Roberta is about to take a long slide down--like, that slide right before the end of Chutes and Ladders that takes you almost back to the beginning. He proposes. Don't you want to end that sentence right there and not find out that Roberta buys him a one-way ticket to Disillusionment City?

The train to Disillusionment City was super fast.
He hands her the snapshot of her and George he's had tucked in his copy of Poetical Robert for 13 years and takes his medicine. He won't pester her anymore.

Let's tot up the list of things he's been hanging onto for 13 years:

  • A paua shell she picked up off the beach when she was 12 and which he had made into a necklace for her.
  • Her father's painted miniature that he takes with him on trips.
  • That snapshot.
  • And a wounded puppy.
What? Yes. A puppy too. The old dog she's had following her around is the puppy that got mangled by the haymaker long ago. Old Robert thought it should be put down and Little Roberta had cried so, of course, Muir nursed it back to health. 

I'm going to skip the fire and Marie's elopement with a man of the cloth (#hotScotReverend) and rush to the second proposal which happens in a hospital ward, within earshot of everybody. She has an actual injury--not a pretend injury which is, in the world of Romance Literature, just a prelude to romantic snuggling and foot groping--that she got in a landslide. It sounds wonderfully gruesome and though there WAS, in fact, a shepherd's hut nearby and a fire to dry out in front of and some charitable clothes shedding, that was secondary to the misery of wondering if she'll ever walk on it again. (It reminds me of Chinatown where Jack Nicholson has a slashed nose that lasts more than two scenes.) 

This time she accepts and it's up to Old Robert to tell her that all her Roberta's Razor notions were wrong.

Rating: In the Land of Essie Summers, I'll rate things in Landslips. This deserves 8 Landslips out of 10. I loved this so much and am really astonished her novel-writing career was so fully realized right out of the gate.

The negatives are that Old Robert should have had nothing (or very little) to do with the explanations at the end and Essie does get a little tangential from time to time. The pluses are riduculously awesome:

  • My imagination has a lot of fodder to play around in when I imagine Muir having that conversation with Old Robert wherein he basically has to confess that he's never found a woman he liked better than the one he thinks his granddaughter will have turned into. 
  • I loved the multi-generational family and supporting characters.
  • I liked that Saint Marie really was a bit of a saint. She was slated to be a serious Veronica but, instead, Essie offers us this sweet little romance (that happens off-stage) about becoming a better person because you love someone...and isn't that what Roberta and Muir do, themselves?
Location: Oamaru

Misunderstanding: She thinks he's a fortune hunter and in love with another woman.

**Edit: I had thought to just rate these all in landslips but repented of that. The Essie Summers rating system is posted in the tab at the top of the page and, under that criteria, Healtherleigh deserves a "Digging out the sheep"!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Essie Summers: Away We Go!

I'm excited to kick off this review series! It's going to be agonizingly slow. If September has taught me nothing, it's taught me that I don't have two minutes to rub together but, as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park before the death and slaughter, "Life finds a way."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Interview With The Betty

I have this daydream that I'll be clicking open my email one day and a message will land in my box titled something like, "The Great Betty As I Knew Her: A Granddaughter's Story" or "I Found this Box of Notes in Gram-gram's Attic and You Guys at TUJD Seem Super Interested in Her Legacy". Maybe Betty Neels wants to haunt me in a friendly and collaborative way and can't quite get enough signal boosted. I don't know her #AfterlifeGoals.
Betty Keira felt a warm wind waft through the room.
It smelled of sausage rolls and stroopwafels... "Betty?" 

So I thought it would be nice to throw together some interview questions in case I do have her ghost popping out of the van Voorhees woodwork. I would not like to be unprepared:

  • What did you enjoy more? Your nursing career or your writing career?
  • Which sort of heroine did you identify most with? Rich Olivias, somewhat down-at-heel? Plain Aramintas even more down-at-heel?
  • Did your hands hurt from typing?
  • The Canon describes a LOT of work, some of it really hard work. What was the hardest work you ever did?
  • What did your friends and family think of your Second Career?
  • Why did you make Laura wear a wedding turban in The Hasty Marriage? And then made her meet her sister while wearing a denim dress?
  • What book was your favorite? I know you're going to say they're like babies and you can't possibly choose but let's pretend you can.
  • How long did it take to pound out Sister Peters in Amsterdam?
  • Are you okay with TUJD? I would not like to be encroaching.
  • Tell me how you really feel about private nursing...

Does anyone else have a question they wish they could put to The Great Betty?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bettysday Eve

Bettysday, our once-yearly commemoration of The Great Betty's birthday, has leaped upon me this year like a street gang of youths in Dam Square. Happily, it's nowhere near as dangerous to my person or my pocketbook. Sadly, it's also less likely to end in me being stuffed into an idling Rolls Royce Corniche by a furious (but, nevertheless, swoony) Dutch doctor who warned me to avoid it at all costs.
Dam Square--Hive of scum and villainy

My own celebrations will be modest but very Betty. I am meeting with my writing group in the morning and we will all try to recover from the effects of Summer. (Getting me back into the swing of things after having all the Pledges home all the time looks like those cowboy westerns where they're trying to revive the drunk sheriff in time for the shoot-out with Black Hat and plunging his face over and over and over into the water trough.) Thanks to The Great Betty, I will tamp down feelings of being too old for this and feeling like it's too late to begin to be awesome. The Great Betty would have none of that.
None. Of. It.

Sometime in the afternoon, I will have something sweet. Maybe a whole table of something sweet. And though it won't really be the place for it, I will close my eyes and sigh, "Heaven is a cucumber sandwich."
...and scones and fresh raspberry jam and apple cake
and things that can break but have not yet been broken.

What is everyBetty else doing?

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Bite of Betty

Reading Betty Neels is weird. Well, it's not her fault. But you feel me. The whole reason The Uncrushable Jersey Dress exists is because fellow Founding Betty Debbie and I didn't know one single other soul whose jam was vast Dutch doctors, socking, great Bentleys, shocking ward emergencies, swooping kisses, tiny bedsits and the loneliness of stone-cold foxes staring thirty in the face.
Annis wondered if Jake even knew what a biological clock was.

So you can imagine my delight when I was on a long road trip with a friend of many years and she said, "The Betty blog. I don't get it. I think I should get it. You need to let me read one of those."

Oh Betties. It was like someone ringing the Avon lady's doorbell and asking for three tubes of Fearless Fuchsia, extra toner and something for the eyelashes.
"I suppose I'd say my make-up routine is Elizabeth Arden blusher...liberally applied."

I decided to pick out five titles. And I'm not going to pretend that I spent a massive time weighing my options or that she is going to read them all but I figured I would offer her the equivalent of a tapas night of Betty books. A little of this, a little of that...

Here they are:

A Kiss For Julie--we have a classic Oliva, homemade clothes, an attempted burglary and a faithful family retainer. My copy is a large print and that can't hurt. I want to make this trip into BettyLand as painless as possible.

Magic in Vienna--My friend will get to enjoy the classic Betty tropes of negligent parenting, medical emergencies and handsy housemen.

The Little Dragon--I picked this because it's so different than a large number of Bettys. Lies and farce and drinks down dresses. If the others don't hook her, maybe this off-beat number will?

Discovering Daisy--My friend is interested in old things and I hoped that this book, revolving around antiques, might pique her interest. It is also a wonderful example of the Late Canon.

The Promise of Happiness (or Becky and the Baron, the hot, hot Baron)--I really went back and forth about whether or not to give my friend any of the top 10-ish novels. I don't want her to peak too early and think of the others as "Fine...but..." Nevertheless, it's a masterpiece (if that's your chocolate covered digestive biscuit) and I hope it casts a spell like a dryad sucking a sailor onto rocky schoals.

"Well, it was like this. One second Tiele was purchasing
two tickets to a chamber music concert and the next second..."

Tell me in the comments if you have some better ideas and let me know if your own stabs at Betty Evangelism have bourne fruit. I'll let you know how this goes!