The Great Betty Read: A STAR LOOKS DOWN, #30

Star_Looks_DownAfter the magnificence of Henrietta’s Own Castle (the cat alone sent me into paroxysms of reader-joy … Henry in his tea cosy), I was ready for a gentler, quieter Neels and found it in A Star Looks Down. It’s so quiet and gentle, there’s an absence of OW (Other Woman, for those not used to rom-lingo) and the villain is a hardly-villainous ten-year-old. But there is really something quite lovely about the story of heroine Beth Partridge of the plain face and violet eyes and the laconically mild-mannered, patient Dr. Alexander van Zeust. Indeed, if there’s a nasty, it’s Beth’s brother, who takes advantage of her good nature, impeccable house-keeping, generous heart and hand, as he’s constantly asking for a fiver. He’s in medical training and Beth is paying his and her way on her nurse’s pay. But a generous offer comes from Alexander, who recognizes Beth’s nursing and personal worth and offers her a great sum to nurse his sister while she recuperates from an appendectomy and to care for her four young ones (while their father is away). 

In the absence of other woman and mere references to vague but numerous girlfriends, from the get-go Alexander is aware of Beth’s rightness for his future wife before she is — even though her love for him is hopeless and she pines for most of the novel. Her care-giving stint is extended to a stay in Holland and Alexander has an opportunity to stay close to Beth and patiently bide his time before declaring himself. The reasons why are hazy, but psychologically astute. Alexander says to Beth, in one scene, that she’s afraid. Afraid of love? Of him? Of intimacy? It’s never explicitly discussed, but it is a moment of truth: Beth is afraid, of not living up to Alexander, of being less, of entering the enormity of a great love. I thought the subtlety of this wonderful. What I didn’t enjoy was Beth’s accumulated TSTL scenes: suffice to say, Beth is of the where-angels-fear-to-tread heroine variety, climbing cliffs and dangling over ravines, navigating stormy seas and plunging into icy North-Sea waters when she can barely swim. 

But Betty still delivers in touches of sheer brilliance, with wit and humour. The more I read her, the more I notice these lovely writerly touches. When Beth and Alexander meet, Beth’s hand is “gently wrung” by the gentle giant. Beth’s sarcastic comment to her brother who sycophantically worships Dr. van Zeust, ” ‘Oh? Does he live on a pedestal or something? He seemed quite human to me.’ ” The lovely moment when Alexander murmurs, ” ‘I didn’t believe it, but they are violet’ ” about Beth’s “pansy” eyes. Alexander admires her beauty while she’s down on her Plain-Jane self. When she recognizes her worth, Alexander can claim her hand … though I’m not convinced she ever does, as the HEA takes place with Beth a bedraggled mess sacrificing herself on the altar of misplaced integrity. There is a remarkable scene, given Betty’s time and place, of an abortion gone badly, judgement-free, even sympathetic one would say. Also, Beth referring to Alexander’s nebulous girlfriends as “hussies”! A marvelous abandoned-horse rescue scene. A Star Looks Down is a flawed Betty, but still a Betty, always a good thing. Onto to #31, The Moon For Lavinia.

11 thoughts on “The Great Betty Read: A STAR LOOKS DOWN, #30

  1. It sounds good. Will definitely look for, for the abortion scene alone. My Betty reading is going well too. “Sun and Candlelight” was very enjoyable. The heroine has another boyfriend at the start, and he wants her to go away with him for the weekend, but he doesn’t want to put a ring on it! We know Betty’s heroine will never go for that. Then I reread “Only By Chance”, and the heroine with 2 cats in a cheap bedsit gave me a deja vu feeling, until I figured out that Claribel in “The Course of True Love” also had 2 cats! But “Only By Chance” is the one with the hero’s POV for the last third or quarter of the book, so it remains a favorite.


    • I love the naughty boyfriend bit! Two cats, also typical marvelous Betty, long may she reign in reader-hearts. It WAS good, but Henrietta was so marvelous … everything pales! But any Betty is better than anything for that special conglomeration of wonderful elements.


    • A few months ago I was inspired by your enthusiasm for Betty ( I think it was A Small Slice of Summer and/or Damsel in Green you were reading ) and decided to reread some Bettys. Unfortunately I didn’t really enjoy the one I chose and it became a DNF. I was unable to overcome my aversion to RDD ( rich Dutch doctor) heroes who seemed incapable of wooing the heroine by actually communicating his attraction and interest to her until the last scene.

      However your excellent review of Henrietta’s Own Castle rekindled my interest and I read it and loved it. Despite the usual Betty plot points – RDD, medical emergency, manipulative OW , it was lovely. I enjoyed the repartee and interactions between h and H . I think I’ll pass on A Star Looks Down and check out some of the others where the heroines are less passive and downtrodden.

      I have been wondering why Betty Neels, of all the Mills and Boon authors of the 70s ,80s and 90s , is still popular while many others of that era who were best selling authors, seem to have faded away eg Essie Summers, Janet Dailey, Mary Burchell, Charlotte Lamb , to name a few. Or is just that my impression?


      • Hmmm, a most interesting question. (I’m glad you enjoyed Henrietta! I loved it too. I think, considering Betty’s literary output, not every book will be a keeper. My plan is to finish my Great Betty Read and then return to reread the keepers … till death do us part.)

        As for those other authors you mention, all wonderful in their own way, I think probably among romance readers, they continue to be read and reread. And commented on. In a wider romance readership, I think Betty hit the right formula: she’s so deeply inoffensive and remains on the shelf. Maybe, I’m not sure. I’m responding off the cuff. I also think that Betty’s psychological acumen is super-sharp in the best of the books, like Henrietta, that all those offputting “dated” elements can be overlooked?


  2. Oh, this one is so uneven–a real ‘curate’s egg’. Beth is too often an enabler for her brother and somewhere along the road she acquired Betty’s 11th Commandment–Thou Shall Not Snitch, which causes no end of pain in the final part of the book. I would like to think that Devious Dirk learned a valuable lesson from his final escapade, but I doubt it. It is a shame that Betty never has Alexander and Beth do a cameo appearance in a later book. I would like to see her all grown up and confident; she’s not quite reached that stage by the end of this story.
    Not one of my favorites, but certainly memorable.


    • HA! The 11th commandment: so annoying in this case b/c snotty kid! Yes, I’d love to see Beth with a bit more something, spine? spirit? confidence? Alexander was quite patient, but he was a boob when it came to that “adventurous” boat-escapade.


  3. I never remember the plot of this one and get it mixed up with Stars Through the Mist, which is a favorite of mine. But reading your review, some of it comes back to me. I totally forgot there was an abortion mention in it, too. Good for Betty.


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