Review: Holiday in Bath by Laura Matthews (1981)

Posted March 2, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Oh dear. Two fairly hard-to-like principals, a very uneven plot, some over-the-top silliness from the heroine, and a rabbit-from-the-hat romance (you know how this one goes: I don’t like you… I don’t like you… oh, I’m in love). I kept reading because… well, I’ll get to that, but boy, was it a slog, sometimes.

Here’s the premise: Trelenny Storwood is the only child of her parents. Cranford Ashwicke is the only son of the neighbours. So naturally they’re expected to marry. Cranford is dutifully courting Trelenny… no, wait a minute. What sort of name is Trelenny? If this was set in Cornwall, I could just about accept it, but in Westmorland? And Cranford isn’t much better. This at a time when half the baptisms in England were for Anne, Elizabeth, Mary or Charlotte (for girls) or John, Edward, William or George (for boys).

Anyway, Cranford is courting Trelenny, even though he thinks she’s a hoyden and every time he meets her, he ends up correcting her behaviour. As for Trelenny, she just thinks he’s dull, not to mention old (at twenty-eight!). They snipe at each other constantly, more like brother and sister than a courting couple, so although Cranford has officially asked permission to pay his addresses, he hasn’t officially asked her yet because he’s pretty sure she’ll refuse.

So the big question is – why on earth is he even bothering with this courtship, when neither of them is very keen on the other? I confess, that’s the question that pulled me along through the swamps of implausibility that bogged down much of this book. We don’t get an answer until almost the end, when there’s a rush of revelations, some of which actually made some sense. But by then it was a bit too late to redeem things.

Here’s one of the more problematic elements, for me. Quite early in the book, Cranford pays a visit to a very classy brothel, where he has dinner, plays some cards and then beds his favourite lady. He seems to have a very cosy relationship with her, is fond of her and regrets that he isn’t rich enough to keep her as his mistress. She tells him not to worry because she’d rather work at the (very classy) brothel and have friends around her. Which is all very cosy and all, but what is the hero of a Regency romance doing in a brothel anyway? Nor is this a final farewell before he settles down to marriage and faithfulness. So yuk to that.

Then there’s the uncle who turns up and immediately starts pawing Trelenny (and her mother!), and neither of them makes a fuss because the father has heart trouble and the stress might make him pop off. So instead, they take off for Bath with Cranford, something that Trelenny has been angling for for a while, having had a very curtailed rural life and quite understandably wanting to see a bit of life before she settles down to domestic bliss. Or marriage to dull Cranford.

But then on the journey there’s an outbreak of stupidity on Trelenny’s part that almost broke the silly-o-meter. It involves her dressing up in men’s clothes, roaming the streets at night and eventually getting roaring drunk, and all because she’s too silly to say no. There’s an eloping couple involved, and although they do have a small part to play later, I’m going to say that I think the whole point of this whole episode was so that Cranford had to undress the drunk-unconscious Trelenny and get her into her nightgown and into bed. Yuk to that, too.

Bath gets quite interesting, because Trelenny discovers to her dismay that it’s not at all like her dreams and really, it’s all a bit hit and miss, just like every other part of real life. This was really nicely done. Meanwhile Cranford is being pursued with vigour by a former squeeze, and he actually does the right thing here and rejects her, but for the wrong reason (because he’s got his little friend in the brothel if he wants that sort of thing). So yuk again. And he’s also hanging out with an old friend, Lady Jane, who seems to Trelenny’s eyes to be a much better match for him, so she’s convinced that she’s lost him for good.

I’ll spare you the details of the rest of it. Naturally it all comes right in the end, and reasons are given for the various misunderstandings and motivations, but I was really past caring at that point. There were some nice lines – Bath is described as a ‘mushroomy watering hole’, for instance, but there are a number of Americanisms, like stoop, visit with and ‘on High Street’ (Brits would say ‘on the High Street’). I never warmed to Cranford and his dodgy moral compass, but I quite grew to like Trelenny in the end, even if she was made to veer between utter stupidity and common sense to suit the purposes of the plot. Ultimately there were too many yuks and the plot was too uneven for me to give this more than three stars.



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