I am a terrible door-to-door salesman. Granted, my evidence for this rests on an abysmal record of moving beef jerky sticks for the 4th grade school fund-raiser. But I did no better hocking chocolate bars, frozen cookie dough or novelty lollipops. Betty Neels, though? I am an evangelist for Betty. Here is a loosely compiled list of reasons everyone should read the works of The Mighty Betty Neels.
Come buy what I'm selling.
THE CADS: These rotters work more angles than a Kardashian. They run out of petrol on lonely Dutch roads, march British nurses past antiquated mummies without a fortifying tea, stick them with the bill when offers to 'get away for a quiet weekend' are refused, run from fires, practice medicine poorly and, worst of all, damage original Gina Fratini gowns by being bad kissers.
I ought to only long for the complicated embrace of classic literature's multi-faceted characters. But that's like telling myself I ought to only eat kale instead of hot Cheetos. Those hot Cheetos have to be eaten. Just leaving them in the pantry would be wasteful.
THE CLEVERNESS: Let me give a hard eye-roll to the suggestion that sweet romance is, de facto, dumb romance.
For the love of Grabthar's Hammer, declining to write
about sexy-times is not proportionally related to IQ.
Consider some Neels characters. Chef Florina Payne dumping lemonade over the woman who insulted her sacred honor, enjoying the chemical reaction all that acid is likely to do to tinted hair. Or Gideon van der Tolck of The Silver Thaw, whose proposal, given too soon, betrays the depth of his love as well as the self-preserving humor he cloaks it in. How about Rose Comely wooing her Dutch doctor by singing nursery rhymes to little Duert ter Brant as he revives consciousness, setting the doctor firmly on the path to appreciating the Amazonian goddess masquerading as a plain Gold Medallist.
Betty Neels is a master of the satirical observation, the not-quite-nice impulse noted and smothered, and the soft, soft moment when everything changes forever.
THE COMFORT: Following the inexorable courtship of a vast Dutch surgeon and an excellent British Night Sister who will invariably fall asleep in his socking, great Bentley as he drives her into the country for a spot of fresh air before bed... It's all very gentle and undemanding. Even when Aunt Thirza dies of leukemia, it sounds like the most charming pop-off in recorded history. Tea, a moss rose bush, the lies of a medical professional, and one's own garden. I found myself nodding, "What a lovely way to die." When one is feeling poorly, Betty Neels can be counted on to deliver the goods.
"Take some iron pills, lie down and go towards the light..."
THE CAST: So many extra characters round out the world of Betty Neels. Indian owners of the local grocery store who tot up the canned goods even while the lovers make their declarations, Jan in Cassandra By Chance, tending a blind ogre in a lonely cottage. Careless sisters forgetting to pay the nanny or forgetting they even have children, mothers illustrating greeting cards in garden sheds, fathers with an elderly Morris and a dicky heart...
There's something for everyone here.
THE CRAVING: (Okay, yearning. But I wanted another 'C' word since I was already on a roll.) Though our characters stay well away from physical 'no-fly zones', this does not mean they are unmoved by passion. Never Say Goodbye's Isobel Barrington receives an amber necklace--a token from a man she is sure doesn't love her--and wears it surreptitiously under her blouse. Heroines take dreadful private nursing jobs to run away from hot, hot Dutchmen. We get proposals, second proposals, swooping kisses, hooded eyes gleaming, cars slowing through a village on the off chance a hero might see the heroine in the yard...
Sometimes you have to read the subtext
So many feels, so much wanting. And The Great Betty's genius is getting you to want her couple to get together as much as they do. Don't know where to start? Try one of my favorites, The Promise of Happiness (or Becky and the Baron, the hot, hot Baron).
*A version of this post originally appeared on The Uncrushable Jersey Dress, a blog devoted to all things Betty Neels