Ah, beloved Betty, your Matter of Chance took me through many a bathtub reading session and kept me annoyingly flipping pages. You broke the bank with your hero’s inscrutable meanness and heroine’s puckered-brow peevishness. I admit to an eagerness to read my Betty #36 because of the sheer delight I took in your protagonists’ names, as evidenced from the blurb:
Cressida Bingley needs a fresh start, so moving to Holland for a new job seems perfect. Until she finds herself lost in Amsterdam and accepts help from a charming knight in shining armor — who turns out to be her new boss’s partner! Dr. Giles van der Tiele can’t forget the alluring young woman he rescued, and longs to make her his bride. But Cressida refuses to marry for anything less than love.
Hmm, the blurb is deceptive because Giles doesn’t propose to Cressida until near the end and the blurb moves this into the preamble to MoC territory, which it isn’t. As a matter of fact, I hate to say this, but Giles spends most of the novel being so incredibly unkind that I came as close to being mad at precious Betty as I ever have. I loved Cressida: she’s smart, competent, beautiful, and hard-working. So what gives, Giles, why you gotta be so mean?
It was particularly difficult to deal with Betty’s disagreeable, mercurial Giles because Cressida deserves kindness. She lost her parents, indeed one following closely upon the other, and she is so sad. She’s right to take a job with Giles’s partner, working to translate and polish a medical manuscript for publication. It gets her away from England where everything is blah and her grief is a weight pulling her down. It keeps her occupied, the elderly Dutch doctors she works for are obliviously kindly, and she navigates a new culture and language. But Giles, man, he can be downright odious at times. Has Betty tipped into unlikeable territory for her hero? Maybe. Betts has many a snappish, buck-up-buttercup kind of hero, but their gestures belie their manner, their barks way worse than bites. More often than not, they care for the heroine by treating her to a lovely meal, driving her in big, quiet, fast expensive cars, making sure she has a gift, one that shows he noticed what she likes or yearns for. With Giles? Bupkis.
And yet, even through the callous, a few scenes shine, like this one:
At any other time she might have declined to answer him, but she was bone-weary, and in that half world of tiredness nothing seemed quite real. “My father was ill. He died, and my mother died a few days after him.”
Strangely she felt better now she had told him, but it wouldn’t do to bore him with details, so she asked him in a bright voice if he would like some more toast.
He was staring at her across the table. “No doubt you will be furious with yourself for telling me,” his voice was kind and gentle. “but don’t be that — I’m a doctor, you know, and one can tell doctors things one would never dream of mentioning to anyone else. And it’s not right to lock one’s grief away as though it were something to be ashamed of. Sorrow is for sharing, and so is love. And it has nothing to do with whether we like each other or not; you told your confidence to a doctor, not to a man you aren’t quite sure you like.”He grinned tiredly. “You are at perfect liberty to go on disliking me if you wish, and you may disagree with me as much as you like.”
Lovely, no? Giles finds the best words to comfort Cressida as much as to spare her pride and endow her with dignity in her grief. He carries her sadness and adds a lovely humourous touch at the end that allows Cressida to gain equilibrium and return to sparring with him and frowning. *sigh* I can’t help but wish there had been more of this. I’m glad I read A Matter of Chance for this exchange alone, but I’m happy to move on to Betty #37, The Hasty Marriage.