Friday, February 26, 2021

Matravers Hall

By Elizabeth Kellier, ©1962
Also published as The Return of Nurse Maine

Julia Maine was shocked to learn of the sudden death of Gaiety Harrington, her old school friend. Happily married to Nicholas Harrington, Gaiety had never seemed the suicidal type. Now, forced to pay a condolence visit to the family at Matravers Hall, Julia was plunged into an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Apprehensive in the gloom of the great cliffside house, Julia was disturbed by the silence with which Nicholas treated his wife’s death—and by her own awakening interest in him. As the days of her visit lengthened, Julia determined to seek out the malevolent force that had destroyed the young bridefearfully aware, that she, too, might be its victim.


“A person intent on murder has to take some risks.” 

The original title of this book is The Return of Nurse Maine, which gave me hopes that we had here an example of a sub-sub-genre, namely the nurse gothic romance novel. Heroine Julia Maine is indeed a nurse, but alas spends no time working as an actual nurse in this book, so it may not even count as even a simple nurse novel. But since I was duped into reading it, let this review serve as a warning to others who might possibly follow. 

We immediately learn that Julia had once been in love with Nicholas Harrington and that he had proposed to her, but Julia’s mother was an invalid requiring her full-time attention, and she felt that “it would not be fair to hand such a burden on to any man.” So she had turned him down without revealing her motivation, and when her mother had died less than a year later, she ate her heart out. This loss was made apparently irrevocable by the fact that her school acquaintance Gaiety had swooped in as Julia was stepping out and snagged the eligible bachelor for herself, despite the fact that the pair were obviously ill-matched.

Now, when her Christmas card was answered with a note from Nicholas saying that Gaiety had tossed herself off a wind-swept cliff 18 months ago, Julia feels obliged to make a condolence visit. Curiously, her stay stretches out for weeks before she starts to consider heading home. In the interim, however, she thinks a lot about how all the people in the house might have done away with Gaiety, because exactly no one thinks Gaiety actually committed suicide. Gaiety is increasingly revealed as an unpleasant, unstable character who had moved out of her husband’s bedroom and was increasingly “nervous about something,” according to one of nearly fifty people Julia interviews regarding Gaiety’s death.

The list of suspects, however, is quite thin. Meet Nicholas’s sister Marjorie, unmarried at 38, “tall and muscular with a strong face and high forehead,” who has a close female friend “of the same type,” Miss Gladys Newson. Much is made of Marjorie’s lack of fortune and her disappointment in not being able to go with Miss Newson on that woman’s upcoming trip around the world. We also learn that Marjorie’s mother, essentially an invalid at the geriatric age of 59, has left everything to Marjorie in her will. To demonstrate her appreciation, Marjorie is always forcing her mother to stay in bed all day as well as unspecified tonics (sans gin, unfortunately) down her throat multiple times a day. The surprising detail is that nurse Julia demonstrates not one iota of interest in what the medication is or what Mrs. Harrington’s diagnosis might be.

What with interviewing Mrs. Harrington, the gardener, the cook, and the neighbors, three weeks fly by before Julia suggests she should be going, but Nicholas, who is becoming increasingly friendly, begs her to stay longer. “It was hopeless to deny that each time they went out together some further quickening of emotion took place. The hours passed like minutes.” When finally he sweeps her into his arms and covers her face with passionate kisses, she insists that he tell her his own story about what happened to Gaiety, because as a detective, this woman misses no opportunity—even if the obvious conclusion staring her down eludes her. Nicholas reveals that he had come across a letter to a lover Gaiety had written just ten weeks before her death, and his bizarre and completely unsupported conclusion is that the boyfriend had dumped her and she had killed herself in despair. Julia then interrogates neighbor Tony Grant, a suave fellow who drives a sports car and wears a scarf in the open neck of his white shirt, and the cad too easily admits that he had been seeing Gaiety, but that she had broken up with him due to Nicholas’s increasing jealousy. Julia, as stupid as she is inquisitive, turns to an obviously false suspicion: “All that her probing and her search for truth seemed to have done was to lead her round in a circle—so that she still came back to Nicholas.” It doesn’t cross her mind to wonder why Marjorie is pacing the ground atop the fatal cliff with her eyes glued to the ground, or why the manly spinster looks so afraid when it comes out that Julia has been riffling through Gaiety’s diary.

Mother Harrington has a “giddy attack,” and it turns out that she was diagnosed a year ago with leukemia, but Marjorie has decided to withhold this information from Nicholas and even Mother herself. Nicholas uses this news to suggested that he and Julia get married right away, so as to make his mother “as happy as possible.” Julia, “almost convinced” that Nicholas had nothing to do with Gaiety’s death, agrees, because why not marry a man you can’t exonerate from a murder? Mother is delighted, but when the pair tell Marjorie their happy news, “it was as if a cold wind had blown across the room.” What could it mean? Marjorie keeps harping on Mother’s upcoming sixtieth birthday, and the next day pulls Julia aside and insists that she postpone the wedding. Julia refuses, Marjorie is furious—and “something tangible seemed to be moving through the silence, something frightening and odious—like bat’s wing brushing against her cheek.” I’ll wait while you finish snickering.

When Nicholas decides to go to London on a business trip, Julia naturally decides to stay at Matravers and work on her trousseau, because the shopping opportunities in London are not that great. First, though, she’s got to take the dog for a walk, and heads for Gaiety’s jumping-off point. She finds a broken charm bracelet that had belonged to Gaiety, and suddenly she remembers Marjorie’s peculiar stroll along that same path. Finally the penny drops!! It must be Marjorie who killed Gaiety!! And now she probably wants to kill Julia!! As do most readers!!!! So when Marjorie suggests that Julia go out to the shed to collect the dog, Julia obligingly trots out, and is mysteriously locked in the shed just as she discovers it is on fire! She is rescued at the last minute, of course, and though she is convinced that she was set up by Marjorie, “it would be cruel” to tell Nicholas that his sister tried to murder her and also probably murdered his first wife.

There’s no point in laying out how it all turns out, because the reader has been fairly confident of where the trail is leading all along. The plot—and Julia—can be particularly stupid at times, as Julia leaps back and forth between defending Nicholas’s innocence one minute and being convinced of his guilt another, of today insisting Gaiety was in fact a victim of suicide but the next day it’s murder. Enormous power is invested in tiny items: Gaiety’s broken bracelet, for one, and in another instance, it is suggested that Marjorie had erased an exclamation point from Gaiety’s diary that somehow all by itself revealed everything about the murder plot, when Marjorie could have just tossed the entire diary in the fireplace. The relationship between Julia and Nicholas is wooden and completely unconvincing, barely even existing in the book. Last but not least of the book’s sins that I will mention here, I did wonder if the author intended for us to suspect that Marjorie is a lesbian. I must confess that I have not read any other Gothic novels, so I cannot say if the prose here is typical, but in Matravers Hall it is quite florid: “A flush, no deeper than the delicate pink of her house coat, slipped into the curve of Julia’s cheek,” and that’s just the second page. Mercifully, author Elizabeth Kellier soon forgets to keep up the purple standard, and drops into more normal way of talking. Not least, of course, I was peeved that I was fooled into thinking this was a nurse novel. So consider yourself warned, friends, and stay out of Matravers Hall.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

There Came a Surgeon

By Hilda Pressley, ©1964

Another child’s toy, another girl’s boy, it was all the same to Elvira. Whatever Alison had, Elvira had to try and snatch it from her—even to the extent of becoming a nurse in Alison’s hospital. And Alison never realized how much she minded Elvira until Steven Hartley joined the hospital staff …


“Even knowing the worst is better than not knowing at all, and worrying about it.” 

“When you were in love you did all manner of foolish things.”

“You women often have the same blind spots about hats that you have about men.”

“There was very little to a kiss these days. It didn’t mean anything.”

This fairly simple book gives us the slow story of nurse Alison Lynwood, who at book’s outset is mad about Dr. Johnny Crowther, but “Johnny’s the type who can make you feel you’re the one girl in the world for him one minute and let you down the next,” says Alison friend’s Norah. “The trouble is with Johnny, he doesn’t want to settle down, doesn’t want to tie himself down to one woman.” On her side, Alison is in love with Johnny, and so spends a lot of time sighing by the silent phone—until Dr. Steven Hartley moves to town. Suddenly she has someone to dance with at the hospital ball while Johnny is whirling another gal around the floor. Alison gets the bright idea of dating Steven so as to make Johnny jealous, but the catch is that she really likes Steven. “How nice he is, she thought, not for the first time. He was such a restful person to be with. He was a much nicer person than Johnny. The thought brought her up with a jerk, but she realized it was true.” 

Over the ensuing pages, the volume turns down on Johnny—who, miffed, calls Alison even less than usual—and up on Steven, until “she was no longer in love with Johnny. As a man he could not hold a candle to Steven.” The rub here is that Alison’s cousin Elvira turns up, chasing Johnny actually, as she’d met him at Alison’s home one time and become instantly smitten. She’s enrolled in the nursing school and starts taking up Johnny’s spare time, but when she notices that Alison’s eyes have turned to Steven, suddenly she wants that man, too. Knowing 19-year-old Elvira as we do, though, it seems hard to believe she’s going to tempt a solid type like Steven. “Elvira was so ruthless,” Alison thinks. “She could lie, cheat, scheme or even steal to get her own way. That she had good looks and a superficial charm and could to thse things without the slightest compunction made her a most formidable enemy.” But she is very transparent, tossing herself in Steven’s path or passenger seat with flirtatious lies that even a cad like Johnny could see through and tire of.

Eventually Steven kisses Alison, but with all the gossip going around the hospital—Alison is not the type to dump poor Johnny as a friend, and still has dinner with him on occasion though it’s clear to him that she has cooled—and with the usual misunderstandings and jealousies, the usual inability to just say how you feel, it takes numerous chapters to sort things out. In the interim, there’s a suicidal patient to talk in off the roof, among other adventures, but after this one, Steven tells her, “I couldn’t—wouldn’t have done it without you, Alison. I kept remembering things you had said in our conversations when we had been out together.” There are Alison’s attempts to befriend and understand Elvira, which result in that young woman climbing out on the roof, too, and Alison takes the lead there, saying, “Don’t you know that you can’t force love? The only way you can win anyone’s affection is by being loving. You could be an absolutely wonderful person, the kind of girl no one could help loving. Do you realize that?” Somehow this does the trick, and Elvira decides she really does love nursing and regrets all her bad-girl antics and wants to be Alison’s friend. Their lifelong rivalry, which has been made much of throughout the book, which has been totally unexplained—poof!—is gone. Alison is tucking Elvira into the spare bedroom in her apartment when Johnny drops by to see how Elvira is, and says he’ll take her out next week. “Do you know what I’ve discovered about Johnny? He loves women most when they’re in need of him,” Alison says slyly, though it does not ring true with us readers. Steven turns up a few minutes later to have his turn with Elvira, brushing her tears away and giving her a hug and a sleeping pill. Elvira can’t understand why everyone is so nice, but Alison lies blatantly: “We’re all being nice to you because we love you,” and not a word is said about this abrupt switch in story line, either. As Alison is seeing Steven out the door, she’s finally able, in the slightest way possible, to suggest her feelings for him when she whispers, “Steven, don’t go—” and this is all it takes to break down the misunderstandings.

I am a complete sucker for the young woman hanging out with her friends in her apartment—somehow a scene in which everyone is sitting around the living room with cocktails in their hands laughing at a joke just slays me. This book has these scenes by the handful, and its relaxed, simple tempo is soothing. Maybe the book is a smidge too simple, and the wrap-up of the conflict between Elvira and Alison is way too forced (a copy-cat would-be suicide? We love you?? Really???), but Alison is a smart, outspoken character we can admire, and on the whole this sweet book is pleasantly enjoyable.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Obstetrical Nurse

By Jane Converse, ©1972
Cover illustration by Allan Kass 

“I love you, Lon. I’m never going to stop loving you!” Nurse Marguerite Lowell longed to say it to Dr. Lon Webster. Longed to kindle a response in his heart. Working so closely with him, Marguerite found her attraction to the handsome young doctor growing stronger each day. And more hopeless, for Lon made no secret of his infatuation with the hospital’s provocative blond receptionist. When Dr. Warren Leash, Chief of Obstetrics, proposed, Marguerite felt caught in an emotional trap. Warran was a man she deeply admired—but could she love him? Should she fight for the man she wanted—or settle for a sensible marriage? The turmoil in her heart grew, until a fateful event brought Marguerite winthin reach of the love she had always dreamed of …


“‘Stay cool,’ she murmured. ‘It’s only a man.’” 

“While he was looking at Hallie, I was looking at you. You weren’t exactly green with envy. Just sort of a pale chartreuse.”

“Now I know what they do with the leftover ether at your hospital, Lonnie. They serve it up in highballs once a year.”

Dr. Lon Webster is the object of Nurse Marguerite Lowell’s deepest desires. The problem is that Dr. Lon is handsome, but “he’s a permanent adolescent, and he’s dull. Oh, and he’s righteous. A self-centered baby,” says Marguerite’s fabulous roommate, Nurse Joan McAfee. And worst of all, “he barely knew that Marguerite existed.” Instead, he’s fawning over the beautiful but dumb 19-year-old hospital receptionist, Hallie Davis. What a prince. 

Goaded by Joan, Marguerite decides to start dating Chief of Obstetrics Dr. Warren Leash, who actually is—kiss of death—a nice guy. “One look and you knew there wasn’t a shred of dishonesty in the man. She could relax with him as easily as she relaxed with Joan McAfee and there was never any need to be anyone but herself.” Of course, this means he is fatally doomed to be uninteresting to our heroine. But after Warren kisses her for the first time, he sort of proposes, and she sort of doesn’t say no, so now everyone in the hospital takes them to be engaged. “There was no turning back now,” thinks Marguerite the dope, “yet she couldn’t honestly say that she was in love with the man she was going to marry.”

For his part, Lon is about announce his engagement to Hallie at a big hospital gala, but Lon’s brother Brian turns up, and Hallie is transfixed. And why wouldn’t she be? The man is essentially dressed like a pirate, with striped pants, a transparent black shirt with a ruffled jabot, a wide tangerine sash, and a single gold hoop earring. Hallie gets Lon to postpone the announcement, and wouldn’t you know it? On the night of a big obstetrical emergency at the hospital, Lon learns that Hallie has eloped with his brother, and the loser is so distraught that he flees the hospital, leaving Warren and Marguerite to cope with all the dropping babies single-handedly. Lon then spends pages moaning and weeping, gnashing his teeth and pulling his hair—such attractive behavoir that Marguerite finally decides she’s going to break off her engagement with Warren and go back to moping over her unrequited love for Lon. “Disgusted?” snorts Joan, when Marguerite tells her of the plan. “Not because you’re being rotten to Dr. Leash, not because your conscience hurt—oh, no! But because Lonnie Webster’s little playmate ran off with his kid brother. Wow! You can go back to making a tragic figure of yourself again. Brooding around the house, staying home every night like somebody’s old-maid aunt.” I told you Joan is terrific!

Marguerite, however, in addition to be incredibly selfish and stupid, is also nearly as conceited as Dr. Lon. When she hears that her and Joan’s landlord, Rick, has started hanging around more with Joan, she thinks, “What if he’s using her companionship as an excuse to hang around the cottage because of me?” Every man must be in love with her—every man, that is, except Lon. It’s not hard to come to the conclusion that Marguerite doesn’t deserve Warren. Lon spends his days in a melodramatic misery, always with Marguerite’s sympathetic ear—and still shows no interest in her. Warren, however, lays it out straight and tells Lon that he barely knew Hallie, they were not likely to succeed as a couple, and if his infatuation with his own “sob story” continues to interfere with his work, he’s going to be fired. “Lon needs so much understanding,” Marguerite tells Warren, inexplicably defending the big baby. “Someone’s got to make him feel secure again. He’s got to feel that someone loves him.” Who might that be?

Warren again proves how much better than Lon he is by realizing that Marguerite is in love with Lon and letting her out of the engagement. But he’s going to wait for her, “because I think you’re going to wake up some day and realize that you’re infatuated with a man who hasn’t grown up yet,” he says, but frankly I wonder why Warren doesn’t realize that a woman who could fall in love with a self-centered ass like Lon should be avoided like COVID-19. Not even Marguerite can explain it: “She saw both men clearly now, as, perhaps, she had always seen them. The trouble was that the contrast between them didn’t make any difference; common sense and love seemed to have no connection with each other.” Frankly, I don’t believe that to be true. You can be attracted to people who are not right for you, but they do have some quality that attracts you. As we are given him, Lon has absolutely none.

Nine months whiz by and Hallie turns up again very pregnant, with a sob story about how Brian dumped her after forcing her to do LSD numerous times. The most interesting part of the book is that when Hallie’s baby is born—not that we didn’t see this coming—the baby has anencephaly: “sound in body and limb. But the head looked as though a scupltor had run out of clay, leaving the top portion unenclosed and incomplete. That the tiny brain was not fully formed went without saying.” Of course, anencephaly is not caused by LSD use, it’s caused by folic acid deficiency (which is why they started putting it in bread in 1998). Curiously, it’s Lon’s self-centered wailing over this baby that finally brings Marguerite to her senses, because “I wouldn’t want to lean on a man who falls apart every time the going gets rough,” she tells Lon.

In her misery after the baby’s birth—and quick death—Hallie spills a lot of beans, including that she had left Brian for a partying crowd though he had begged her to live clean for the baby, and that she thinks Lon is “a dull, boring clod!” Hallie gets news that Brian has been drowned, but Marguerite somehow misses this bulletin, and when she goes to Warren gleaming with new-found love for him, he tells her that she’s just saying that because now Lon and Hallie are free to marry, “so here’s your second-best standby, right?” Her response is to basically yell at him for several pages—no tears, no apologies, no acknowledgement that Warren is completely right to feel suspicious. Weeks go by, and finally Lon makes a pass at Marguerite, and she tells him to grow up. She instantly reports this to Warren, who remains noncommittal, and Marguerite pitches a tantrum that seems eerily familiar—perhaps picked up as a successful technique utilized to much success by her hero Lon—slams a dish, and tells Warren, “I love you! I’m sick of apologizing because it took me so long to know it,” though we have seen her apologize not once. That’s all it takes, though, and as the curtain draws closed, Marguerite and Warren are making out on the couch.

Jane Converse has an awful habit of endowing the nurse’s friend with bad looks, and then pointing them out every time the woman enters the room. Such is Joan, a straight-shooting, funny, intelligent, “incomparable gem”—in fact, it’s not hard to like her a lot more than our heroine—but she’s described as “a frizzy-haired, pie-faced, sawed-off, roly-poly clown.” As her relationship with landlord Rick develops, we cringe for poor Joan: He repeatedly insults her, such as when “he used his free hand to swat Joan on her seat. ‘You had the flame up too high, dodo! It’s bad enough you’re not a gorgeous blonde. I can’t even teach you to cook.’” At least twice on every page, Rick is insulting her in every possible way—calling her “tubby,” “stupid,” “broad on the beam”—but that’s OK, because “behind Rick’s insults and criticisms was an underlying affection,” and Joan just smiles and giggles, Marguerite thinks it’s “good to see people so happy, so at ease with each other,” and I’m developing a stomach ache. Meanwhile, of course, Marguerite is as self-centered and stupid as the man she spends most of the book moping after, and you close the book thinking that she and Lon rather deserved each other, and feeling sorry for poor Warren. Jane Converse can write reasonably well, but here the characters are mostly such annoying one-note wonders who never stop whining, so the story does not move along as crisply as some of her stories. Honestly, there’s not much here to appreciate, so put aside this dullard and pick up one of Jane’s better titles, like the classic Surf Safari Nurse. At least that book has some life to it, and a shark attack to boot!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Hospital on Wheels

By Anne Lorraine, ©1956

Susan had loved Ricky Sharp all her life, with the passionate devotion of someone who had too much love to give. On the night their engagement was announced, Ricky was dangerously injured in a car accident—while eloping with Susan’s best friend. In her anguish Susan turned to her work. But could even the exciting new Hospital on Wheels, with the brilliant but temperamental Dr. Stephen Brand, make her forget losing Ricky?


“Once she was married, her life would consist of loving and looking after Ricky.” 

“Never pause at doors, my dear child. Every time you come to a new door in your life open it boldly and walk in, no matter what you dread to find on the other side.”

Susan Mance is a lucky orphan, in that after the demise of her parents, she was taken in by a family who had known her all her life and raised with love and compassion. The family also had a daughter, Bette Jonson, and much is made early on about how fabulous Bette is. Bette is “pert, vivacious,” “a breaker of hearts,” and everyone is “lost in admiration of her beauty and charm.” “Bette was everything Susan was not—cherished, adored, lovely, witty and determined.” She’s also willful and spoiled, with every boy wrapped around her finger, and one adoring worshipper in Susan, who expresses her adoration of Bette by following her to nursing school and acting as Bette’s live-in “friend, sister, nurse and slave,” doing all the cooking and cleaning. To be fair, Bette seems to love and appreciate Susan also, and the pair are known as best friends at nursing school. 

Susan eventually manages to land her childhood crush, Ricky Sharp, who has become a doctor (the inspiration behind her and Bette’s desire to go to nursing school). He’s proposed to her, but the night of their engagement party, it’s pretty clear that something is afoot, as Bette acts nervous and Ricky acts guilty, and even the hospital matron is telling Susan to open her eyes. Before the party, however, she works a shift with Dr. Stephen Brand, who is a strict, unfriendly, cold man, and while in clinic she tells him about a patient who can’t make it to prenatal visits because she doesn’t have transportation and no one to mind the other kids. She offhandedly suggests that in these cases it would be best to “take the hospital to them,” and this sparks a fire in Dr. Brand.

But neither Ricky nor Bette turns up for the engagement party, and as she arrives home at her apartment, she gets news that the pair have been in a car crash, and Ricky is paralyzed. Rushing to grab a coat, she finds a note on her pillow from Bette, saying that she and Ricky are eloping! What a shock! So when she tells everyone she is not going to marry Ricky, everyone thinks she’s dumped him because he’s crippled.

Susan also drops Bette like first-period French, and Bette goes to pieces, quits nursing, and moves back home with her parents to care for her mother, who is conveniently ill. Susan visits Ricky from time to time, but the visits are cold and strained, and it’s not clear why she goes—before long, Ricky refuses to see her, so clearly he doesn’t get it either. But the whole story appears to be more than we know—not that we’ll ever find it out, at this rate, because absolutely no one in this book ever has an honest conversation with anyone else. Unfortunately, what this means is that there will be 100 more pages of this silly book that could have been avoided.

Susan “had never been one to profess to having a ‘call’ for nursing,” but we’re also to understand that despite her disinterest in nursing, she is also pretty good at it. But after the accident she needs a change, so when Dr. Brand comes to her with a full-blown plan to start a clinic in a bus, she immediately enlists. It isn’t long before she’s finding that Dr. Brand doesn’t deserve his mean old reputation: rather, he's “charming and attractive,” “a most delightful companion,” and even “kind”! Whenever she’s with him she gets a warm glow, basking in their “mutual understanding,” and the best days of the week are when he travels out with her. He repeatedly suggests they add another nurse, as much as he says he would hate to complicate their pure and easy relationship, and she flat-out refuses every time, even though it means she’s working most hours of most days. On one drive home after a long day, when she is nearly asleep, he kisses her, and then she can’t sleep; “praying only that the man at her side might not hear the excited beating of her heart, nor know that her face was burning hotly from his kiss.” 

At the same time, it’s not clear how she feels about Ricky. “Could she go back to that time when she had not loved him?” she asks herself. She demonstrates little affection or even unhappiness when she sees him, and we have no insight as to what drives her to visit. Painfully, she also can’t decide how she feels about Stephen, her vital signs notwithstanding as evidence. She’s “immersed in these wearisome questions” about what the kiss means, and does he love her, and could she ever come to love him in return? If they are wearisome to her, they are triply so to us, and they go on and on, round and round in circles, arriving nowhere.

Eventually Bette’s mother takes a turn for the worse and Susan is summoned to see her. Now we are presented with a home scene completely opposite to how Susan initially drew it for us. Bette, says Mom Jonson, “always needed you, Susie—always. You had so much that she could never have.” We hear that Bette “was so miserably jealous” of Susan. “She always had to watch you stealing her thunder,” Dr. Brand says, and Bette tells Susan that her mother is better, all owing to Susan’s visit: “A little of Susan is worth a whole lot of Bette.” More reality adjustment comes when Susan decides that Dr. Brand is going to propose to her at a party he’s hosting. The idea gives her “flushed cheeks and bright eyes,” but as soon as she gets home, she decides “grimly” that she will accept Stephen’s proposal: “What did it matter if she could never love him as she had once hoped to love the man she married?” Suddenly her relationship with Stephen could never be more than “firm friendship,” that it could never have “the mad rapture she had experienced with Ricky.” What?

When Stephen does propose, Susan “suddenly felt cold and afraid,” though it mostly appears that she’s upset that he didn’t gush about his unrelenting love for her in the process, but she agrees “quietly.” Just then Ricky turns up with the news that this famous surgeon from America is going to perform a risky operation on him—the only other patient with this condition that he’d operated on died—but there’s a remote chance that he’ll walk again if it succeeds! Alone for a minute, Susan and Ricky realize they’re still very much in love, and Susan insists he have the surgery, which somehow proves that she loves him: “Nobody but a woman deeply in love could have dared to give such advice to the man she loved.” 

Back at the party, Bette pipes up that Susan will never love Stephen, because “she’s the type who gives her heart once and for all. Her heart happens to belong to Ricky—to Ricky, do you understand?” Unleashed, she tells Susan that she had intended to persuade Ricky to elope with her and had left the note, but Ricky would not be persuaded—“he loves you, and has never loved anybody else, nor ever will”—so Bette had grabbed the steering wheel and crashed the car. 

Then Bette tells Susan, “Your whole life has been a constant demand for love, love, and more love—and because you need love so much, you attract it—my mother and father frantically trying to make up to you for your loss, eternally dinning it on me that ‘we must think of poor little Susan, darling’ I almost hated you, Susan, because you demanded so much from us! And then you had to have Ricky.” Following this revelation, Ricky and Susan quickly put things to rights between them, and Susan has an eye-opening realization that it’s true, “I have demanded love, all my life,” which somehow “hurt Bette—the way I took the love of her parents as my right, the way I accepted her love and generosity as due me, and then the way I demanded that you should remain true to me.” It’s a baffling position—doesn’t every child “demand the love of the people who raise them, and doesn’t everyone insist that their beloved remain true? Is it a sin to need to be loved? As for feeling that Bette owes Susan love and generosity—after the way Susan has been “friend, sister, nurse and slave,” is that terribly surprising?

The maddening way this book completely turns 180 degrees on so many things, and how it willfully keeps half the story away from the reader for most of the book, means we wait and wait for the big reveal that makes utterly no sense; Susan ends up looking like an inconsistent, self-absorbed moron. Bette and Dr. Brand turn out to be the most interesting characters, and even he takes a turn in the end when Bette tells him that he doesn’t love Susan either, when he’s been as swoony in appearance as she’s been all along. Not much of this book makes sense, and with everyone acting so inconsistently and frankly stupidly, it’s really hard to care about them.