The Betty then is no better than The Betty now

I very nearly didn’t post anything for August’s TBR challenge even though Kicking it Old Skool is one of my favouritest topics in romance reading. I adore reading older romances especially from the 70s and 80s. I regularly reread old favourites and I also seek out titles from markets and op shops. My only foray into Old Skool romance this past month was revisiting Betty Neels.

Now let me start by telling you – nay showing you! how I felt about Betty Neels as a teenager:

Bored person slumping in their seat from the tediousness of what they are listening to

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I would see her books I could feel my skin crawl.

She bored me.

There was always a Dutch doctor. There was always a nurse or hospital scene. There was lots of ruminating and cups of tea (BINGO!).

And there was always always always at least one scene with some amazing transformative dress.

So colour me petty but I was not a fan.

However, I am grown up now *ahem*. It is 30 years later. I now appreciate nuance and subtleties *snort*. And so many people on various social media platforms absolutely adore The Betty. So much so that I began doubting my teen memory. I wanted to reassess The Betty’s books. So I borrowed the one audiobook my library held and coincidently I also owned a copy of the book.

The Quiet ProfessorThe Quiet Professor

And here is the plot in dot points

  • Megan (heroine) is a nurse engaged to Oscar (not the hero but a doctor) and both work in  a large London hospital.
  • Oscar the weak is a mummy’s boy and kind of weirdly detached from his fiancee Megan who is all “oh dear we do have busy schedules” when he can only meet with her once a week.
  • Dr Jake van der something or rather (the hero and also a doctor) is a big Dutch scary older professor that mumbles speaks quietly.
  • Megan didn’t get on with Oscar’s mum.
  • Oscar did get on with Megan’s family.
  • Oscar especially got on with Megan’s shy, retiring, ever so sweet, gorgeous, flower-amongst-flowers, Judas of a sister Melanie.
  • Oscar and Melanie get on so much that Megan’s parents are all “oh ohhhh!” but leave things to run their course rather than tell the fucker Oscar to fuck off out of their fucking family.
  • Dr Jake keeps popping in to Megan’s drab bedsit for a cuppa tea but avoids answering her questions when she asks after his wife and kids because he too is a control freak shit of a man who likes gaslighting women rather than just be upfront and honest with a straight “I am not married” statement (like how is not answering this question even an issue!)
  • The penny drops to Megan of the brown skirt and brown cardigan and beige shirt that sweet adorable Brutus sister Melanie has taken up with her fiance.
  • The penny doesn’t drop that mum and dad were so emotionally detached from her and obviously didn’t care enough to say anything to her early but instead  made a couple of sangers, drank some more tea and said “oh dear, yes it will be terrible if our daughters come to an impasse”.
  • Then Megan is convinced by nasty Melanie, asswipe ex-fiance Oscar, shame-faced mum and dad and mumbles Dr Jake to give up her fabbo job in London so that she didn’t bump into and embarrass dickwad soon-to-be-brother-in-law Oscar so that he and Megan could gallivant around England without the guilt of their actions facing them every day (yep – good thing the bloke got to keep his fucking job).
  • Then Megan is convinced to take a lesser paying casual job in Holland where Megan can’t understand a word and Dr Jake deBoring set it up perfectly for her because it’s easier to gaslight if you can’t understand what others are saying around you.
  • And then out of nowhere, Megan wears an amazing dress.
  • And then Jake admits to not being married.
  • And Megan saves a baby.
  • And then Jake saves Megan.
  • And Jake’s granny gives her nod of approval.
  • And then Jake makes Megan a cuppa tea.
  • And then they realise that the cuppa tea actually means they are in love and they decide to marry.
  • Meanwhile there are lots of lovely flowery description of both the English countryside and the Dutch countryside and this is perhaps the only pleasing relief in the story from the exasperating narrative.

The Quiet Professor audiobookThe narrator of the audiobook, Anne Cater was excellent in that she read this novel without a cloying, patronising voice that I have previously come across in Harlequin Mills & Boon audiobooks that have shitted me off. She was professional and fine. However…. Megan in this book is a 29 year old. The narrator must be somewhere in her 60s. I know that anyone can read a story etc etc but I struggled and couldn’t reconcile the narrator’s voice to the character. To be fair, the character is one that is imagined by an already elderly author and you can hear her age in the characters. She was 82 when she wrote this novel (and wrote up until she was 93). Now I know that there will possibly be many other readers who will consider this an ageist opinion but this is not to say that I feel older authors can’t write young romance (not at all!) but just to say that Betty Neels writing younger characters in a romance does not work for me. This is my other BIG TIME FRICKIN’ ISSUE with The Betty and the Quiet Professor.

This book was published in the autumn years of Betty’s ouevre. It was published in 1992 in the UK and 1993 in the US. To put this in terms of The Betty on a history timeline – The Quiet Professor was published in the same 12 months as Jennifer Crusie and Suzanne Brockmann hit category bookshelves, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a new release, after the hedonistic 70s, the Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins 80s, it was a time when the Nirvana dude was already dead and DAMMIT Bono was already a cliche and punk had been and gone! Yet this book seems to be written in a void untouched by popular culture. I was 23 years old at the time that this book was written – only 6 years younger than the heroine in this book – and I could not envision anyone being like this character (and I knew some very conservative English and Greek girls). Nor do I feel that every character needs to be like someone I know. But there was something out of kilter with these characters.  I feel like the book was set in some weird ass post-WWII depression era England when there were still food rations and everyone’s day was focused on their food and it was all too Enid Blyton for me. And I realise that for some people this is why they love The Betty. But the total weirdness, the anachronisms, the  complete disconnect from the reality of how a late 20-something and a 40-something might conduct a relationship in the 1990s just annoys the hell out of me. Sure I know romance fiction is supposed to be fantasy but I prefer my romance cuppa tea to be one of Utopias not a depressing Dystopia.

Maybe, just maybe I am ranting and raving because I read one of The Betty’s lesser novels. Maybe this one never hits anyone’s Top 10 list. I might, just might give The Betty one more go to see if she redeems herself but it will need to be a novel that comes highly recommended. But for now, I stand by my judgement of The Betty making me feel utter boredom.

I borrowed a copy of this audiobook from a New South Wales public library.

I was given my copy of The Quiet Professor by @MerrianW. I am ever so grateful (though this may not be evident from the above review) to @MerrianW who has actually provided me with a whole bookshelf of Betty Neels. I will care for the books even if I don’t enjoy them. And one day, I will eventually pay forward her wonderful gift to me by finding them a loving home with a The Betty appreciator. 

PS I have edited my post. I was a bit ruder than I should have been.

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23 thoughts on “The Betty then is no better than The Betty now

  1. I haz sad that you were not a Neels fan. But it’s ok – you’re still my blog-friend lol 😊

    I completely understand. She IS an acquired taste. And there really isn’t a middle ground, people either seem to like them – or not. And the love (or non-love) are usually all for the same reasons you mentioned.

    If you didn’t like TQP; you prob won’t like any others — they’re pretty much all the same.

    I love them because they remind of when I was young and first found them; and because the world building is METICULOUS.
    It’s like Neels created a fictional overlay of the real world, and nostalgically imbued it with all the things she a) likes best and b) feels that the real world should have but is missing: strong, heroic (and very tall) Rich Dutch Doctors, nurses and secretaries with snapping eyes and beautiful clothes.

    If she was writing sci/fi or fantasy she would be commemorated on her ability to create a perfectly insulated, technology-free world… They REALLY are like if Enid Blyton wrote a romance – there is SO much food and jolly times; so it completely satisfies my childhood love of Blyton and my current love of romance – all in the same book.

    • I know that I risk the ire of many a fan. I WANTED to like her. I WANT to be part of the Neelsian appreciation conversation. I tried to read in terms of otherworldliness but it just didn’t work for me. I know people love her food description but instead it annoyed me. I know her fashion/clothing sense gets celebrated but every item read as drab brown (note my background change in line with how brown my opinion is). I will give her another go though. Perhaps after the thesis when I am in need of quiet.

      And I am glad you are still my blog friend.

      • lol. I am going to search out a not-too-terrible Neels and see if it can’t change your mind…

        ALso: the brown background: the *perfect* shade of manure and disappointment…
        😏

  2. This sounded so much like that Neels I read for bingo a few months ago, I had to check the names to make sure they weren’t the same.

    I know what you mean about the datedness. I remember reading an Harlequin Presents that felt like it was from the 70s and when I checked, it was published the same freakin’ year I got married. Which yes, was 25 years ago, but I remember those times and we were not freakin’ wearing poodle skirts or dancing the minuet.

      • Yes, they’ve made pretty successful efforts to genuinely update. Though I still chortle at the Penny Jordan hero who wanted to help the poor with aromatherapy.

      • Noooo! Was that recent? This is where I struggle with some stalwart authors who become a little bit hit and miss. Anne Mather’s latest had a fab premise but the writing fell flat. Sara Craven’s latest felt like an old, rejected manuscript from the 70s that she tried to refresh. I appreciate that not every book will be a diamond but I prefer that they write romance for older women in their 50s and 60s rather than write these weirdly placed young/not young people. We certainly need more older heroines in category romance.

  3. For what it’s worth, I think her earlier books are generally much stronger than her later ones. But they are all set in that 1950’s ish world.

    • It is much easier to rant against retro reads (regardless of the genre) than new pubs. It soooothes my angry soul. I also think that I have developed an incredibly low tolerance for any sort of ass-holery behaviour whereas I used to delight in how awful a hero could get just to be brought crashing low down to his knees.

    • I also think each to their own. I’m glad she was published and i have no issue with the writing or other readers loving her. I can see how she is an expert in the form. I just cannot connect with her views.

  4. I loved your review even if I do have rather an affectionate view of The Betty. I read a lot of her when I was in my early teens ummm, that would have been late seventies and early eighties and I liked her then. Now I’m too scared to go back to her exactly for the reasons you describe above. Some memories are best left in the past and not revisited.

    • Oh no! Don’t let me colour your view. I do believe that once a Betty fan always a Betty fan (and vice versa). I like that most people who have commented (both here and on other social media) both heartily agree AND continue to say they love her for the reasons that I don’t love her.

      • Oh don’t worry about colouring my view. I recently revisited Mr Pinkwhistle by Enid Blyton and couldn’t believe how sinister and weird it seemed. Betty Neels was cool when I was a young teenager but I have tried revisiting her in the more recent past and she didn’t really press my buttons anymore. You said it wonderfully in your post but I was more or less already there. 🙂 Some authors stand the test of time like Heyer for example but others…

  5. Fun review. I’m sure I would have reacted the same. I remember reading books like these set in modern times and I felt transported to the 1950s. I’ve never read one of her books so I can’t compare, but I enjoyed your review.

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