I finished another of Mary Balogh’s two-in-one books and thought, “Yeah…no.”
More than that, this one’s about Christmas. There’s something about genre fiction and especially romance that doesn’t seem to let this particular holiday go: it is a truth universally acknowledged that having your whole family, cooped in the same house, up in your business, is not the best basis for romance. More than that, there is a grotesque amount of sentimentality about Christmas stars, and about decorating a massive country pile with greenery stripped off of helpless trees. The bit that gets me the most – particularly because they roll it out right at the end, when you really start to hate snow angels and caroling – is that every story finishes with an assertion that the happy couple will keep the spirit of Christmas alive ‘all year long.’ Hah.
In the first book, Mr. Up-and-Coming feels immediate and blinding chemistry with Mrs. Widowed-but-not-
Excessively-Merry, they get it on, and she falls pregnant. (As though you can get yourself in a delicate condition by losing your balance on a long flight of stairs.) They marry, deal with their issues about being independent people, and have a baby boy to keep the family line going.
The second book features another widow who comes across her ex-fiancé, a man she jilted by eloping with a virtual stranger. Of course, he was stricken with love for her, plotted his own species of revenge, and she lived an unhappy life. She goes back to London in the wake of her husband’s death with her two young children. Their paths cross. He gets her to come to his estate for Christmas. He falls for her children. He falls for her. She realizes that she kind of digs him. They have sex. He proposes. She dithers. They live happily ever after.
This second book was better, though – at least, there’s more to talk about. This story was a strange mash of thoroughly conventional elements and quirky details. Marquess Sulky dresses in the hero uniform (all black), but he also was the one to be wretchedly heartbroken; Mrs. Oblivious feels that she has three left feet when she is being watched, but she also admits to being afraid of heights – not because of the possibility of falling, but of the little voice that tells us to jump. This book also sent its characters to various famous places in London – Westminster, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the menagerie in the Tower, though we don’t hear about the grossly inhumane conditions inside that zoo: animals barely had space to turn around. It makes modern zoos look like luxury spas.
Each book needed children to make it work: in the first, the damage an unwed pregnancy could have done was incentive enough to embark on a hasty marriage; in the second, the widow’s children respond to the Marquess’ bribes and cajole their mother into spending time with him. I can’t see how either of these couples would have ended up together without their progeny spurring them on, a flaw of this kind of story line. It’s good and rosy to think that the protagonists will shack up no matter what happens, but perhaps it’s better to shrug, suspend a certain amount of disbelief, and keep going – all with a gooey layer of Christmas slathered on top of it.
If you’re asking yourself why I read these books, I have no substantive clue. This blog is part of the process in which I ask, “What gives?” I’ll let you know if an answer is in the offing.