A Book I didn’t Like

Dipping In Of The Toes

I just read my very first Harlequin Medical Romance. The book takes place in Scotland and is written with British syntax. It was well written, which was why I was able to get through it, but the story line was so intensely conservative I had a difficult time sticking with it. Probably related to that, I had a difficult time believing in the conflict that was keeping the hero and heroine apart. I’m surprised every time I bump up against the deep rooted sexism of Europe. I shouldn’t be. But for all the claims that America is uptight, it’s the case that here women have it better, and I say that even with the US’s poor treatment of women, childbearing and childrearing.

This book is a case in point.

The hero is doctor and the heroine is a recently divorced nurse. Her husband was a cheater. She has a 15 year old daughter and MUCH is made of the fact that the heroine looks extremely young and that she was 18 when she had her daughter. The heroine actually thinks her divorce is reason for shame and social stigma. In fact, the author introduces the concept as a given. Wow. I say if a woman kicks her serial cheater husband to the curb, good for her!

The heroine allowed her husband to define her life. Just about everything she did or didn’t do was his choice. After the divorce, she moves to a remote Scottish Island so her daughter doesn’t have to find out her father doesn’t want anything to do with her now, and is working as a nurse with Dr. McHotty. Awesome. (I do mean that!) I’m all for that set up.

But cue all the saccharine encounters with the good people of the island. She’s perfect. She’s self effacing. Everyone loves her! She gives and gives and wins over all the curmudgeons because she is just so damn sweet.

Dr. McHotty’s ex-wife was a doctor who is so ambitious she gets sterilized so she’ll never have children. And she doesn’t tell Dr. McHotty until after he says he thinks it’s a good time to have kids. He wants kids, so he kicks her to the curb, and moves to the remote Scottish island and a house that is nowhere near anyone else. Because isolation is a well known way to have those kids you want.

Anyway, our heroine and Dr. McHotty get involved. She is 33 and worried that she’s too old to have kids, and how could she do that to her 15 year old daughter anyway? and hey, what could the doctor mean when he says 33 is not too old to have children? Could he mean her? So she decides she must give up the man she loves because she is 33 and too old, and can’t upset her daughter by having a relationship with a man she loves and maybe having children. Turns out the daughter wants her to get married and have kids. Whew!

My Problems with This Book

The bitchy ex-wife is a very very tired romance cliche. What’s the best way to make a women bitchy? Give her all the characteristics that, in a man, would make him a highly desirable Alpha male. She’s smart, ambitious, wealthy and successful. BITCH!!! And how do you really make her horrible? You sterilize her. She is a BITCH incapable of having children. She was only ever using the hero because his career was ever so slightly more successful than hers. And then she metaphorically cuts off his penis by sterilizing herself without consulting her husband so that he is unable to procreate. The ex-wife has no redeeming qualities. None.

In this day of contraceptives that can last 5 years, who the hell electively sterilizes themselves? Seriously. Wouldn’t a doctor know the serious side-effects of sterilizing a woman at a young age? Who on earth would ethically perform such an operation for no medical reason? This is such an extreme course, I can only conclude that the author fully intended every single implication of this.

The heroine worthy of Dr. McHotty’s love has done nothing but sacrifice herself for others. She is the archetype of a the pre-1960’s idealized woman. She gives up the chance for a university education because she got pregnant. She stays home and keep house. Her husband defines her life in every way; no more children, no dog, no fish for dinner everything is his way because he’s the man and he says so. She never wanted school (because that might put her into competition with men?) anyway. The only thing she ever did was manage to go to nursing school, without the support of her husband, but that isn’t actually well explained, because nursing school is no walk in the park and neither is working as a nurse. She denies herself at every turn in order to serve others. I suppose she didn’t sleep, just so she could be everything to everyone.

Could any set up be more conservative than this? The heroine is defined by sacrifice and deserves the hero because of her youth, beauty and womb. She’s a nurse, for God’s sake. How could she not know that 33 is not too old to have children? She has no internal desire about more children one way or the other except when some man wants children from her or doesn’t. She has no dreams or desires about what to do with her life.

There is probably a generation of women for whom this traditional situation might seem comforting, but for me, all I could think was the book was telling me that an ambitious woman who goes after a traditionally male profession is an evil bitch and the woman who has no ambitions or dreams for herself gets Dr. McHottie.

I did not like this book.



6 Responses to “A Book I didn’t Like”

  1. King Rat says:

    I know a fair number of women who have gotten elective tubal ligation in their mid-20s.

    The book does not sound good though.

  2. We should write a round-robin in which the Evil Ex-Wife gets her own HEA and she & her new husband push Dr. McHottie & Nurse Perfect off a cliff.

  3. King Rat: Thanks for the comment. I did some looking around (though not very hard) and found limited discussion of sterilization of someone so young that didn’t get all caught up with religion. I don’t know any childless women who had a tubal ligation, but that, of course, means nothing. Be that as it may, I think my main objection to the issue was that way the author (to me) seemed to choose sterilization as a way to prove the ex wife was a bitch.

    Regardless, the book was well written and I think there are people who would enjoy it very much, possibly even for the very conservatism that bothered me.

  4. Lorelie:

    Heh. I found out the failure rate for a tubal ligation is 1 in 200. A bit scary. I would not want to push the happy couple off the cliff. But I’m on board with the ex-wife marrying well and happily to a man who does not resent her drive and ambition and who doesn’t make her feel like she has to choose between fertility and career success. Just how supportive could McHottie have been? Obviously, she feared all the work of child-rearing would fall on her and that she would lose the career she worked for.

  5. Edie says:

    Umm.. depending on the author, some of the M&B authors are old school ladies who have been writing since the 70s, so not sure if they are a valid example of contemporary political clime in a country.

    Just saying.
    Not sure about UK but in Aus you can’t get you’re tubes tied unless you have popped out a couple of kids. Dammit.

  6. Edie:

    I completely agree that one book (regardless of author) is not representative of the moral climate of a country. I’m not sure the age of the author has all that much to do with that author’s politics, though I think most people tend to think that older = more conservative. My mother is 83 and she is astonishingly liberal about the issues I had with this book, but conservative on other things.

    To clarify, which I didn’t do in my blog post, I wasn’t coming up with my opinion about sexism in Europe based on that one book. I came to that opinion after having had 3 boyfriends who were European, several trips to Europe, a LOT of reading of English language newspapers (my French is no longer good enough to read news in French) and several conversations with women who live in Europe who, from our conversations, convinced me that for all its social progressiveness, European women still face a lot of issues that were litigated/legislated here in the US 20+ years ago. What jobs are actually open to women appears to be one of them — not to mention what happens to women once they have those jobs. Admittedly my sample is small — just women I know or met.

    Not to say US women don’t still face those issues, they do, but there’s a deeper awareness on the part of everyone in the US that certain behavior is actually not cool — whether they agree or not.

    All that is just to point out that I wasn’t saying, oh, here’s this one book that was really conservative so I guess Europe is sexist. Regardless of the accuracy of my opinion, I was going on more than that.


    I got to thinking that what are we saying about a woman’s agency if she can’t decide to sterilize herself and then go through with it? It’s a bigger issue than I can tackle here, but thanks for your comment!