An Unlikely Romance
“Here’s one that you might like,” my mom said as she handed me a copy of An Unlikely Romance by Betty Neels. “But don’t expect any car chases or serial rapists. It’s real low-key.” Well, my mom wasn’t exaggerating, An Unlikely Romance was low-key. It was so low-key that it was rather dull. As in, not too much happens – except a woman gives up her own goals to foster those of her man.
Beatrice “Trixie” Doveton is a student nurse at a hospital in London. She is mousy and quiet, an orphaned child who has been treated as second-rate by her aunt and cousin for as long as she can remember. She doesn’t date and doesn’t think she will ever marry. She is content with getting her nursing degree and caring for others in her chosen profession. Then she gets a startling offer.
Krijn van der Brink-Schaaksma is a well-respected endocrinologist who works occasionally in the same hospital. He also works in Holland and is trying to write a book on endocrinology. But his social schedule often interferes, causing him great frustration. He notices how quiet, organized, and well liked Trixie is and decides that he would like her for his wife. They will have a marriage of convenience, he assures her. He only wants to be left to himself as much as possible so that he can write. In return for her assistance in regulating his social affairs, he will take care of her financially. Trixie accepts readily as she is already in love with him.
This book was written in 1992, but it reads like it was written in 1952. The setting, London, bears absolutely no resemblance to the London in Brit Chick Lit. There are no parties, no pubs, and no nightlife. Trixie has no social life except for chatting with her nursing friends and, after she’s married, chatting with other married women. She has no problem quitting her job to become his social secretary. She doesn’t spare a moment’s thought for the time she’s put in on her degree. And several female characters have a “bag your man” mentality – her female cousin gets angry with Trixie because she snagged a husband first.
I kept flipping back to the copyright date, sure that I had gotten it wrong, but I hadn’t – this book really was published in 1992.
I also didn’t find the hero to be very compelling. Neels repeatedly describes him as “absent-minded” and I suppose this refers to the fact that he never thinks about anything except his work, and this would include the heroine. They spend very little time together talking, and in half the scenes she’s annoyed with him about this. Additionally there’s the fact that Krijn is so curiously asexual. He is to all appearances completely contented with the idea of a platonic marriage, though he seems to have no other sexual outlet. How many very attractive, very socially prominent men do you know who have absolutely no interest in sex? This did not ring true to life to me.
The only thing I liked about this book was the heroine. Trixie was kind, competent, and good. She had a quiet dignity about her that was appealing. I thought it was sad that she didn’t have enough confidence to demand more respect from Krijn and the other people around her.
I know that Betty Neels has a devoted audience. We get plenty of her books donated to the library I work at, and her books are still in print and now being re-released as “The Best of Betty Neels.” I am apparently not that audience, however. I didn’t like the strange out of time feeling of the setting, and the book’s sexist worldview irritated me. I can’t imagine dropping my career and personal goals to organize someone’s life, especially if that someone was generally oblivious to my presence. So unfortunately, I did not find An Unlikely Romance to be very romantic at all.