This book was an interesting foray into the construction period of a pleasure resort during the Victorian Era. If you strip away the beautiful setting, you are left with the story of two people who should not, cannot, love one another.
One thing that makes Mr. John Jones so irresistible is his accent. John is a Welshman and there’s something yummy about the way he speaks. It reminds me a little of Gabriel Byrne as Professor Bhaer in Little Women.
The biggest wedge to Betsey and John being together is that John is practically engaged to another woman. He’s certainly made advances in that direction anyway and any honorable man of the time would have to honor that. Betsey is essentially a “ruined woman”, thoroughly TOO modern for her time. What makes this story interesting is their working relationship and the small hope that it might blossom into more.
My favorite moment is the swimming lesson in which John tries to teach Betsy “Elisabeth” in the ocean.
“Rest on the water. I have you.” Rest on the water. Hell. Still, she tried, tried to shove down the fear, tried cautious movements toward straightening her knees. But whenever his hold loosened, she jerked up, tense and uncertain about the gathering waves. “I have you,” he said. “Look you up, the stars and moon.” (p.241)
It’s a moment where Betsey’s tough exterior cracks slightly as she has to trust another man. It’s also one of the happier moments of the book, but you’ll have to read that to find out what happens (wink).
So, when you get down to it, why does this book only deserve a 3.5 star rating? Well, mainly because of our heroine.
Betsey is not exactly a role model for young women’s behavior. She’s got edges to her where she should be soft and embraceable. She’s too experienced and that gives her an abrasive personality that makes her come across as unlikable. I was torn between rooting for Betsey and Lillian Gilbey, her romantic rival. Lillian reminds me of the type of young woman Betsey MIGHT have been if circumstances had been different, if she and John had met before she was “compromised”.
I like fiction to be escapist. I want to pretend to be the heroine. I don’t want to be Betsey. I think I’d most like to be one of the tourists at the pleasure resort, and that just to see what one was like during the hey-day of visiting places like Newcastle (Ireland) or Brighton and Blackpool (UK).
As a standalone book, it works. Would I read a sequel? Probably not. We all approach reading fiction a bit differently so perhaps Betsey has some redeemable qualities I’ve missed. What do you think?
Grab a cuppa and let’s chat. ~ Lauren