Saturday, March 4, 2023

Doctor Sara Comes Home

By Elizabeth Houghton (pseud. Elizabeth Gilzean), ©1961 

Sara Lloyd was a brilliant doctor, but an unfortunate mishap had badly jolted her confidence and made her feel that her career was ruined. She felt she had to get away from everything, and try for the time to forget she had ever been a doctor. So she went to live for a year in a delightful but utterly remote cottage in the lovely Welsh mountains. In these peaceful surroundings, she soon began to come to terms with life again. She was alone, but never lonely, and her landlord, Robert Llewellyn, after his initial objection to her, was fast becoming a valued friend. Then Stephen Grey turned up—Stephen, who know all about Sara’s past and did not realize that she had kept it a secret from her new friends. Dared she tell Robert the truth, or try to go on deceiving him? It looked very much, Sara thought woefully, as if after all she had only exchanged one set of problems for another.


“Odd how parents will keep on trying to arrange their children’s lives, and they should know by now that the children have perfectly good ideas of their own.” 

“If men could only cry, they’d live longer.”

“It always seems such a waste of one’s own experience that it can never be passed on.”

“Who wants life to be simple? It would be as dull as yesterday’s dinner.”

Like most nurse novel heroines who run away from their careers after a tragedy, the one that happened to Dr. Sara Lloyd was not one that should have upset a seasoned professional six years into her career, and was not anything that was remotely even her fault: A patient she had cleared for surgery died before the operation. It’s hard to understand why she blames herself for this; the patient had had a completely negative past medical history, and she’d been completely exonerated by the Board of Enquiry. In medicine—and in life—sometimes you win, and sometimes bad things happen despite your best efforts. But this pretty minor incident caused Sara to quit and run away to Wales, where her Aunt Margaret lives.

Out for a walk in the lovely countryside, she stumbles across an abandoned little house just as it starts to rain and takes shelter. There she meets Robert Llewellyn, the farmer who owns the house, and though the pair initially spar a bit, he soon comes to recognizes that she is a strong, independent woman. She soon discovers that her grandfather had once owned the lovely cottage, so she rents it from him, and he spends his precious days helping her to clean it up and furnish it. A very charming and sweet relationship quickly develops between them—but she can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s a doctor.

It comes out, though, first because she so easily delivers breech twin lambs in a field, and then delivers a farmwife’s baby when the doctor is too far away to get there in time. Then her old boyfriend Dr. Stephen Grey, who keeps arrogantly insisting that Sara marry him, turns up and takes her out now and then, and has private chats with Robert. A local district nurse also seems to know Sara’s past, and circulates mean rumors.

Robert himself is a very sympathetic character, a successful farmer for the past five years. He brings books and flowers to Sara, and is always thoughtful and respectful, “the one man who had never harried her, or told her what to do, or attempted to do her thinking for her.” Sigh. For once, a VNRN love interest you can actually love yourself.

But when Robert tries to learn more about her, Sara’s secret causes her to be crisply rude to him one too many times, and the relationship cools dramatically. Then there’s a plane crash in the hills above Sara’s house, and of course she is one of the first people there and takes a lead role in managing the crash victims. Ultimately she crawls into the fuselage to get the pilot out, and the wreck caves in around her. She wakes the next morning in Robert’s bed wearing Robert’s pajamas, and a silly scandal circulates, which only puts more distance between them. Ultimately, after one final frigid exchange, she decides it’s a lost cause and is literally on the way out the door to take a job in Nigeria when Robert’s housekeeper drops by to tell her that Robert has gone into some sort of cave to rescue a lost sheep—and also that he’s seemed heartbroken of late; has she turned him down?—and she has a bad feeling about the whole thing. Sara immediately tears off through the storm to Robert’s farm, and then into this cave/well, where she finds Robert has broken his leg in two places and the water is rising!

In some ways this book reads more like a contemporary romance novel because it focuses almost entirely on the relationship between Robert and Sara. Sure, other stuff happens, but most of it is about them working together to clean up Sara’s house, with many gentle exchanges and conversations. As I have already said, Robert is a true rarity in a VNRN in that he’s a man who seems to enjoy arranging furniture and bringing in flowers, he’s never domineering or predatory, but truly a quiet, confident man drawn to a strong woman. The descriptions of the Welsh countryside and Sara’s little cottage in a valley are really magnificent and beautiful, even when she is slogging through the mud in the rain you feel like you’re in it with her. Elizabeth Gilzean has been a very hit-or-miss writer, giving us three C-grade books of the six I’ve read, but this story proves she had talent, and if she didn’t always deliver, with this one she really brought it home.

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