By Gladys Fullbrook, ©1962
Cover illustration by
Just as Paula had
passed her nursing and midwifery finals, her fiancé backed out of their
engagement, and to try to recover from the blow she wanted to get away from
everything. Accompanied by her loyal friend Rosalind, she joined the Tasmanian
Tourist Nursing Service. Her efforts were rewarded, for, in that smiling
apple-blossom island, she found a new life, and a greater happiness than she
had ever known.
“Was he, in spite of his pleasant looks, a narrow-minded prig?”
“You can stop manhandling me. I’m OK now.”
“I’m sorry for
people who are dead.”
“I don’t think forty-seven is such a terrible age.”
“They were young, they were good to look upon—and they were
going to a party.”
By the time Nurses of
the Tourist Service had crawled its way through 191 pages, I thoroughly
disliked our heroine, Paula Bruce. This is probably not what the author had in
mind, but there it is. If we’re given a limp dishrag that is essentially
drifting through her own life and making little or no effort to steer, I’m just
not going to be grateful.
For their first assignment out of nursing school, Paula and
her best friend Rosalind Lane enlist in the Tasmanian Tourist Nursing Service.
Before they go, however, there’s the matter of Paula’s fiancé, Bob Shaw, to
dispose of. This is actually done on the novel’s first page. But after a few
days of “convulsive sobs,” Paula pulls herself together—a little too well,
actually. A few pages later, “I’ve wondered if I really and truly loved Bob.” Well,
call me fickle. Then, when she arrives in Tasmania and is out on a date with Dr.
Christopher Deane, a surgeon in a large hospital there, who bobs up professing
undying love but, well, Bob. He pulls her off to dance with him, holds her
hands and kisses her, and though she tells him that it’s all over, Christopher
seems to think it’s all over for him
and leaves without saying goodbye.
Paula regrets the evening, as she kind of liked the old man—he’s
37—and vows that if she runs into him again, “she’d try to let him know the
true facts. He might not be interested, but at least he would know she was not
that sort of girl and that was what mattered most.” She actually contrives their
second meeting, at the hospital. It’s the end of her late-night shift, and a
fellow nurse offers to call a cab for her. But she turns down the offer and
actually lies to the nurse, saying that a friend is giving her a ride. She
knows Christopher will soon be leaving the hospital, so she waits
by the door until he comes out, knowing he will see her setting
out alone in the dark and do the chivalrous thing; he apparently
has a lot more honor than she does. He drives her home and walks her to her
door—“Oh, good! Paula thought thankfully—but then he sees a photo of Bob in her
handbag and becomes a little chilly. Instead of explaining, she becomes
inexplicably angry and stomps off in a huff.
One such idiocy is an acceptable moment of weakness, but
this pattern repeats itself again and again, to my progressing annoyance. Paula
pines for Christopher with increasing ardor when they are apart, soon coming to
realize that she loves him and at the same time understanding that he was hurt
and misled by her behavior with Bob. But she just can’t bring herself to be a
mature, reasonable adult, instead transforming into a rude shrew the minute he
is in the room. The next time she sees him, it’s at a dance; he kisses her, and
she again becomes angry and storms away. It’s not that she doesn’t know better:
In between these meetings, she’s stewing about how badly she manages things: “Her
own stupid pride was partly to blame. She had been hurt and angry at Christopher’s
attitude, and she had cause. But, and she sighed again, it was not the way to
clear the air between them. Was it too late even now? Paula wondered. Could she
sink her own pride and break through this web of misunderstanding?” Apparently
not; on at least four more occasions, she has an opportunity to let him know
the actual state of her relationship with Bob—not to mention whom she actually
is in love with—but she only snaps at him and walks away. Then he’s seen out
with a clinging, beautiful redhead. “She was seized suddenly with bitter regret
she hadn’t been bold enough to shape the pattern of the last few months. She
could have done it, she felt, if only she had been willing to sink her own pride.
And now it’s too late. Perhaps I did make a mistake.” The lights are on, but
It’s not just with Christopher that she’s unable to be open.
Her friend Rosalind becomes engaged to Angus Lowther, the best kind of man—a wealthy,
older gentleman with a heart condition. But before this comes to pass, both
women initially believe Angus’ attentions are intended for Paula, and even the
dimmest reader can see that this is the cause of Rosalind’s increasing coolness
toward Paula. Though Paula often wonders what’s up with her friend, she can’t actually
ask. “There was a hard flippancy
about Rosalind these days that she did not very much like. But she said nothing
and waited.” This, in a nutshell, is her problem: Whenever her relationships
are not working out, she says nothing and waits. What really makes me angry is
that this strategy is always completely effective. When Paula finally figures
out—entirely on her own, since she can’t ever have a conversation with anyone—that
the two are in love, she’s out on a double date with Angus as her beau, and Rosalind
is with another guy. Now, any sensible good friend would immediately make an
effort to cut the other young man away from the herd and give Rosalind and
Angus time alone. Instead, she says nothing and waits—and soon the young man is
“taking her arm and drawing her a few paces away from the rest of the party.
She allowed herself to be led away.” What a good friend you are, Paula.
If she’s not remaining passive and quiet, she’s telling a
lie. When the two finally clear the air—a conversation initiated by Rosalind to
break the news of her engagement—Rosalind says, “I thought Angus was in love
with you.” “So did I for a while, Paula thought. She smiled at Rosalind and
said, ‘What a ridiculous idea!’ ” Maybe it’s not the worst lie ever, but it
does demonstrate her inability to be forthright.
And she’s not going to learn anything from her mistakes,
either; her failure to communicate, much less act, continues right through the
final reconciliation with Christopher. After settling things with Rosalind, “Paula
yawned widely and lay back on the pillows. She supposed she might as well get
some sleep if possible, and she was tired of thinking and wondering about
Christopher. It’s up to him now, Paula thought, and closed her eyes.” You can’t
get much more passive than when you’re asleep, I guess. When she wakes up, she
dresses too nicely for a lone stroll on the beach, so you know someone’s
coming, and lo and behold, there he is. He tries to tell her that he’s skittish
because his first wife ran out on him and died in a plane crash a week later,
and she says, “Please, Chris, I—do understand, really. Don’t—say any more.” You
can’t reconcile if you’re not saying anything. But he persists, the dumb oaf,
and soon “she would marry him and go with him wherever he went.” She should
have stayed asleep.
The only interesting thing about this book is the Australian
addiction to tea; on several occasions, almost immediately after giving birth, new
mothers are medicated with a hot cuppa. “Don’t you want to hold her?” Paula
asks Mrs. Aust. “Well, just for a minute, but I could do with a cup o’ tea now.
Should be still hot, shouldn’t it? Shame to waste it,” replies mum. Well, in
her defense, it’s her fourth, so it’s little wonder she prefers the tea. The
writing is as blah as our heroine, and I realized in the second chapter that
this book was not going to be a winner. I did want to like it, based entirely
upon the font of the title on the cover. But few books irritate me as much as
this one did.