Book Review

The Magic of Living by Betty Neels


Title: The Magic of Living
Author: Betty Neels
Publication Info: Harlequin Orig. 1974, Republished 2006
ISBN: 0373470967
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Until I picked up this book, I’d never read a Betty Neels book, and I was not disappointed in the least. And in list format, here are are 6 Important Facts I learned about this novel:

1. Hot Dutch doctors, especially the wealthy ones, are incredibly generous and once in the hot throes of lovin’ say things like, “Oh, my darling, my darling!” And I have a hard time imagining Dutch doctors going into raptures of romantic expression by saying, “Oh, my darling! My darling!” However, I can imagine them saying, “But sit and fart in the duck!” Wait, no. I can’t.

2. If you get in a wreck in Holland, and are a British nurse, you and your bus full o’ spastic children (nice vintage terminology!) will end up at a hospital, one which will happily arrange to pay you as if you were one of their staff while you tirelessly and selflessly care for the children. Yeah. But what about retirement?!

3. The heroine is so relentlessly selfless it’s astonishing that she can stand upright. She’s got a backbone of the same durability as an old, damp dishrag. Her uncle and aunt treat her as one step up from hired help, and her cousin takes merciless advantage of her, even going to far as to slander her to The Hot Dutch Doctor Oh My Darling. But really, they fed and clothed her so she can’t complain. And according to what I’ve read online, many a Neels novel features plain but noble British nurse falling head over heels with Hot Dutch Doctor Oh My Darling. Did the Hot Dutch Doctors die out? Will angsty emo vampires suffer the same fate? Perhaps we need to spearhead the fund raising for the endangered romance novel hero species. Do not let the oversexed Regency Earl With Not a Hint of Venereal Disease go the way of the Hot Dutch Doctor Oh My Darling! Call now!

4. The heroine never complains, even when The Hot Dutch Doctor Oh My Darling has listened to Evil Cousin instead of Plain Noble British Nurse, and accuses her of being a thoughtless wench. Plain Noble Brit Nurse needed to administer an enema of justice to her shitass Evil Cousin.

5. Fortunately, the happy ending elevates the Plain Noble British Nurse, and rewards her for her selfless behavior. She wins an incredibly happy, optimistic future with the Hot Dutch Doctor Oh My Darling – in Holland, far far away from her family of craptastic crap.

6. Unfortunately, the happy ending elevates the Plain Noble British Nurse and rewards her for her selfless, and altogether spineless behavior. She never has to stand up for herself where it counts, really, and the selfish family never gets a hard paddle to the assal region like they deserve.

If Neels is part of the foundation of romance, and indeed I think she is, reading this book (complete with red page dye that came off on my hands) was both a quaint and educational experience. Quaint because romance, ma’am, you have come a LONG WAY. Imagine the heroine of The Magic of Living meeting up with a nurse heroine from a Blaze novel fresh after sex in the linen closet with Dr. McSchlong. Poor Plain Noble British Nurse would pass out cold. Her idea of scandalous was her cousin dating a married doctor – which is plenty sleazy but somewhat less of a shock when compared to what Blazing McSex can occur in Doctor/Nurse romances today.

However, reading The Magic of Living was educational because the elements at work in the story were effective on me, jaded reader that I am. The heroine was faultlessly noble, which got old but even still, she was amply rewarded and there’s no doubt I was rooting for her, especially because Neels took deliberate steps to make her sympathetic to the point of, “Oh, Honey,” but never quite so pathetic that I wanted to smack her around. The hero, however, was something of a stock background figure: enigmatic in his affections until the very end and even then, his mercurial announcements of love and of sweeping her off into the sunset were so abrupt it was creepy. Creepitude notwithstanding, the sudsy fantasy of vintage nurse/doctor category romance worked for me, much to my surprise, even though I could identify when Neels was working to make Plain Noble British Nurse even more Noble and Sympathetic. I more than enjoyed this trip in the wayback machine – but I wouldn’t want this to be the only type of romance I read. I like applesauce, but I also like hot sauce, and I wouldn’t want to eschew the latter for an exclusive diet of the former.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    nitenurse says:

    Gawd, I must work in the wrong area of nursing.

    I’ve never had a hot doctor make his desire known…

  2. 2
    darlynne says:

    In a word: ugh. I do have to give Neels points if, as you indicated, she was able to elevate PNBN to “Oh, honey” sympathy status; my reaction from reading your review headed straight to choke-the-shit-out-of-her territory. TSTL should be expanded to include “spineless” and “selfless.”

    Your observation about the hero was interesting and reminded me of the flaw in early Disney male characters. If you look at the Prince in Snow White for example, he is so amorphous as to barely have a chin and his only role is to bestow The Kiss. Being saved by true love never required more than, in that case, a pair of lips, or, in broad romance terms, a bank account or a dick. It seems that any male figure, a cypher, would have sufficed, once upon a time, which is as revealing about them as it is us.

  3. 3

    Just as a point of clarification on outdated terminology, as an American I was surprised on my first visit to the UK to see a fund raising effort for The Spastic Society.  That term for cerebral palsy was still in use, but according to Wiki, it’s since gone out of fashion:

    But back to the subject at hand, interesting review, Sarah.  It’s been a while since I’ve read an old-school contemporary romance.  I liked seeing it through your eyes.

  4. 4
    DS says:

    I haven’t read this one.  I don’t think I could forget a busload of spastic children.  But my first Harlequin ever was a Betty Neels books.  I talked to someone a while back about how many of the books were so infuriating because the heroine is a beaten down Cinderella figure who has to accept the obligatory Dutch Doctor (sometimes he is a Professor) as both fairy Godmother and Prince Charming. 

    However we both agreed she could really describe the heroine tucking into a good meal.

  5. 5
    Charlene says:

    This doesn’t just show how romance novels have progressed: it also shows how the general population’s opinion of nurses has progressed. Almost everything you snarked on – the payments by the Dutch hospital, the treatment of the nurse by her family, the lack of respect by everyone around her – is what real nurses experienced.

  6. 6
    bookworm says:

    I recently read three Betty Neels in a row. They were all almost exactly the same – the evil family and/or employer, the handsome but aloof Dutch doctor love interest, and a heroine who takes self sacrifice to the heights of martyrdom. You can always tell the “bad” woman, because she wears too much make up, and her skirts are too short.

    I loved my mom’s Betty Neels when I was a kid.  I remembered them as being so much better. This time around I was ready to do the heroine a favor, and push her in front of a bus. Your ‘C’ grade was rather generous, IMO.

  7. 7
    RfP says:

    I find Betty Neels novels fascinating, because they are so deliberately worked.  The craft in them is really quite artful… even if it’s used in the service of some seriously goopy stereotypes.

    However, not all Neels novels have the same beaten-down heroine.  Some feature a girl who’s large and placid and content with her lot, some a girl who’s got a nasty temper, and some a girl who’s a striking beauty (mildly) disappointed in love.  Of Neels’ umpty-ump novels, I estimate that she wrote no more than 50 of each type ;)

    The one thing that sounds unusual in The Magic of Living is the “hot throes of lovin’”.  Erm… I presume these hot throes occurred within 3 pages of the end, and involved The Hot Dutch Doctor Oh My Darling gripping her shoulders almost painfully tightly and scolding her for letting the Evil Cuz strand her in the hinterlands or some such… followed by a brisk (though, naturally, hot) peck before he set her aside to carry on with Hot Dutch Doctorin’ Oh My Darling.

  8. 8
    talpianna says:

    Betty Neels is on my short list of Category Keepers; but she’s rather like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead.  I like the ones in which the heroine is NOT put-upon and comes from a happy, loving family.  And she occasionally pulls out the Misjudged by Hero ploy, which I hate.  One of my favorites involves a Theatre Sister and a Dutch surgeon calmly carrying on with a difficult and time-consuming operation as the rest of the hospital burns to the ground. 

    And if you disapprove of put-upon, spineless heroines so much, how come your blogger keeps telling me to Submit?

  9. 9
    Poison Ivy says:

    Betty Neels is Harlequin’s all-time bestselling author.

    “bed33” Ha!

  10. 10
    RfP says:

    Betty Neels is Harlequin’s all-time bestselling author.

    Partly because she wrote something like 140 books!

  11. 11
    Grace says:

    In high school my best friend and I read a shitload of Harlequins, and I remember looking through the new releases at the library and groaning every time there was a Betty Neels because that meant no sex (the only reason I was reading the damn things in the first place). My friend and I laughed at Betty back then, but then a few years later my friend gave her a try again and actually got hooked on her and was really sad when she died.

    IIRC Neels’ husband was a Dutch doctor and she herself was a nurse, which is why that pairing shows up so often.

  12. 12
    Anonym2857 says:

    I looked her up in my database, which tells me she has 200 books, including reprints and compilations.

    According to her bio, found here she led a rather exciting life during the war years before ever taking up writing.

    She said she didn’t write her books based on her DH or herself, but you gotta wonder. Or maybe YOU don’t, but I do.

    And I still contend that she and/or the DH were incredibly overweight, as there was so much description whenever food was mentioned.  Non-existent love scenes (they’d go in for a clinch then break for a chapter and resume days later), but practically orgasmic details for page after page about food.

    big-boned, good-hearted and independent… but neither Dutch nor a nurse

  13. 13
    SusanL says:

    Yes, all her books followed one of her basic plotlines, but I don’t care ;) I still have a soft spot for Betty Neels, as does my mother – especially some of the other plotlines as described by RfP. 

    I definitely don’t want a steady diet of BN, but I take one out now and then as a comfort read.  I get a wonderfully sentimental feeling from my earliest days of reading romance.

  14. 14
    Rachel says:

    The only male Dutch doctor I dealt with told me that cervical cancer wasn’t an interesting cancer and therefore I couldn’t have a pap smear for another five years. Not hot.

  15. 15
    Angelina says:

    “enema of justice”

    Bwahahahaha – I have to tell my Mom about that one. As a nurse, I am sure she would love to give a couple of those to some of the asshat docs she works with.

  16. 16
    Micki says:

    (-: I see I was not the only one struck by the “enema of justice” phrase. (Ew! Ignore that mixed metaphor!)

    Can I use that? ‘Cause I want to see that all over the net. “John, if you don’t shut up, I’m going to administer the enema of justice unto thee.” “If anyone deserves an enema of justice, it’s Marsha.”

    Please? Can we cliche that?

  17. 17
    Brianna says:

    Ahh.. Betty Neels. I definitely have a soft spot for her. I bought all her books off eBay, and if ever I need something to make me feel better, I just grab one :)

    When I went over to London to work as an RN in 2006, my Mum told me to keep a eye out for an Handsome Dutch Doctor
    [HDD] (TM). Alas, I did not find one there, or when I was traveling in the Netherlands.

    Maybe I should have tried looking for a poor neglected cat by the side of the road, as they seem to attract the HDDs..

  18. 18
    Trix says:

    And I still contend that she and/or the DH were incredibly overweight, as there was so much description whenever food was mentioned.

    Erm, some of us like food, a lot, and spend significant quantities of time talking or writing about it… and we’re not necessarily “incredibly overweight”. However you may define that. Love of food does not equal fat, or vice versa.

    “think76” – yes, indeed

  19. 19
    soulncountry says:

    LOL.  This is the best review of a Betty Neels that I’ve read yet!  I like my heroines to be the kick ass type but I do sometimes fall back on a Betty Neels when I’m feeling old school.  Like the reviewer, I have to have both the “hot sauce” and the “applesauce” :)

  20. 20
    Cycle Trader says:

    I remembered them as being so much better. This time around I was ready to do the heroine a favor, and push her in front of a bus. Your ‘C’ grade was rather generous, IMO.

  21. 21
    Acai says:

    It looks like a good book! I’m a big fan of Betty Neels. A Girl in a Million is one of my favorite reads of all time.

  22. 22
    Magdalen says:

    *sigh*  Betty Neels is an author I can’t defend, but I can applaud.  I too have all her books, and have read each more than once (particularly the older ones).  She wrote such wonderfully stolid prose.  Each book is the Cinderella story: the heroine is (usually) in an unhappy family situation, overworked and determined to get on with what needs doing, plain (or pretty but unaware), etc., etc.  The heroes are even less realistic!  See—can’t defend `em!  But they’re up there with my MaryJo Putneys and Patricia Gaffneys and don’t you dare threaten to take them away from me… 

    Oh, and my favorite is Cassandra by Chance.

  23. 23
    AgTigress says:

    Did the Hot Dutch Doctors die out? Will angsty emo vampires suffer the same fate?

    Oh, they will, they will. 

  24. 24
    Acai says:

    What a great book! I’ve always been a huge Betty Neels fan and I’m even letting my husband read the books after I finish them. Now hes even hooked!

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