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The title of roseA Girl Named Rose is hidden in small print at the bottom of the cover – the big attraction of this book is apparently the author. What caught my eye was the muted cover painting. That, and it was the only romance in the laundry room. I am starting to worry that the contributor of romance novels to the laundry room library has moved out of the building.

Betty Neels was an English nurse who married a Dutch surgeon when she was 33. She lived in Scotland, Ireland, England, and the Netherlands. After she retired, the story goes that she overheard someone complaining about a lack of good romance novels, so she bought a typewriter and wrote one. Her first novel was published in 1969, and she wrote 134 novels, working until she was 90.  That gives hope to us aging aspiring writers.

Rose Comely is a English nurse, and during a tour of Amsterdam with a friend, she has a meet-cute with a Dutch surgeon, Sybren Werdmer ter Sane. Soon after, thanks to a remarkable set of coincidences, she is assigned to a special case in Amsterdam, caring for Sybren’s godchild. Through this, subsequent visits with the grateful child’s parents, and Sybren’s occasional visits to England to perform surgical miracles at Rose’s hospital, Sybren and Rose frequently cross paths.

Rose is a highly skilled and caring pediatric nurse, but sees herself as plain. She’d like to marry, but doesn’t think any man would be interested in her, so she is resigned to being a “career girl.” Sybren is somewhat distant and moody, and no one is sure what he wants, but he becomes obsessed with Rose, finding her sensible. Their courtship is low key. A few dinners, and he kisses her a few times, but neither character has any sex hormones or genitals. I don’t like romances fueled entirely by lustful encounters, but there needs to be some lustful desire, at least for me.

The plot lurches through coincidences, clumsy foreshadowing, one too many rescues, a couple of long lasting but easily resolved misunderstandings, and a few genuine obstacles, but it gamely carries on. Part of what kept my interest was the exotic historical setting of working class England, with a dash of Dutch names and fancy restaurants. Though published in 1986, the time period of the story is uncertain. It feels like the 1940s or 50s (I was reminded of the TV show Call the Midwife), but the reference to a channel hovercraft would put it in the 1970s.

No one seems to watch TV or go to movies, and a cheap date is a man who takes you for a “snack” of beans on toast instead of lunch. The nurses live at the hospital, and whether one is called Nurse, Staff, or Sister is significant not just for the title, but because only Sisters are allowed to use the elevator. Was life this sexist and rigid, and simple, in the 1970s? I suppose I was too young to notice. Period and lifestyle details stand out, such as a group of nurses purchasing a thrifty meal of rolls, butter, cheese, hard-boiled eggs and tea; and the hospital atmosphere is well described:

Theatre Sister, known throughout the hospital as Clean Kate because of her obsessive cleanliness, stood stolidly passing instruments and swabs for the almost six hours which the operation took, although the scrubbed staff nurse backing her up was replaced half-way through by a second. The theatre nurses did the same, but Rose stayed where she was by the anesthetist, with a short break for a cup of coffee towards midday.

The canteen is closed by the time the operation is over, but the surgeons get a lunch of sandwiches in Sister’s office while the others enjoy some cold meat, pickles, and a bowl of lettuce that has been left out for them. Later that day, when Rose’s shift is over, Sybren accepts her suggestion that he try a traditional high tea, and takes her out. He enjoys the low class meal and surroundings, but she doesn’t, because she is sure it’s not his type of dinner out, and she’s not his type of girl. Little does she know he can’t imagine living without her.

Neels evidently had a winning formula, and has many fans. Her novels are reliable, chaste, and perhaps more than when they first came out, have a nostalgic appeal to a simpler time when men were doctors, women were nurses,  and cads were humiliated. I’ve no urge to seek out another of Neels books, but I admire her success, and should another one turn up in the laundry room, I’ll be happy to pick it up for a gentle read. My bubble bath rating is “unscented.”

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