This book was absolutely unbearable. The hero, Chase, was loathsome and the heroine, Alex, pathetic. And I say this as someone who typically enjoys a bit of age-gap-alpha.
Let’s start with Chase. At 37, he’s pretty much twice teenager Alex’s age. He’s had a string of mistresses and girlfriends whom he’s still seeing during the novel. But after verifying that Alex is a virgin, he proposes to her. He basically wants her to be a brood mare tucked away on his remote station.
“I want to marry you,” his voice was pitched low, but she heard, every syllable hitting her like shock. “I want to give Coolabra a girl like you, someone untouched. Someone to give me the children I need.”
I say “proposes”. What he actually does is demand. He will not take no for an answer. He spends the entire book berating, controlling and getting angry with Alex. He never says he loves her. He keeps forcing really brutal kisses on her even when she’s not responding. The very few times she is up for it, he cuts her off. This man, to my view, is the literal epitome of the Madonna/Whore complex.
There’s a particularly awful bit where Chase gets a violent temper with her because a former suitor (whom her mother had once tried to set her up with) drops by to congratulate her on her engagement. Chase demands she stop “encouraging other men”. And RIGHT AFTERWARDS Chase invites his erstwhile (and probably current) mistress to have lunch with Alex and him – with the pair of them completely cutting Alex out.
Now Alex. She’s 19 and has fled to Melbourne from Sydney because her mother keeps trying to marry her off. The reason she agrees to visit Chase’s farm/ranch/station is because her mother is heading to Melbourne with another beau, and Alex doesn’t think she will have the strength to refuse.
What also doesn’t help this book is the thick layer of stupid it’s wrapped up in. It was published in 1981. Australian social mores among certain echelons of society may have been a little more conservative back then, but it wasn’t Riyadh. Alex’s main terror, after being in a plane crash and having to spend the night in a bark hut with Alex, is that “her father will be so upset at her spending the night alone with a man that she will have to temporarily pretend to be engaged to Chase”.
Her father, for what it’s worth, is a kind, mild-mannered man who has just spent 24 hours not knowing whether his daughter is dead or alive. I imagine her “social reputation” is the last thing on his mind.
Chase gets worse and worse and Alex gets more and more pathetic. Stockholm Syndromed to the max, she decides at some point that she’s madly in love with Chase, but can’t marry him because he doesn’t love her. At the 11.999th hour, she “flees” her home in Sydney to escape him. Where?
To the flat in Melbourne that she knows he owns.
By the end of it, I frankly felt she deserved him. It was that or live in sheltered accommodation, she was so incompetent at managing her own life.
For non-Australians reading this novel, I feel the need to clarify a few things:
- Mt Isa is not some kind of “Monaco of the outback”. There’s a passage in here that makes it sound as though Margaret Pargeter was funded by the QLD Mining Tourism Corporation.
- Remote outback farms/ranches aren’t the kind of places you suddenly “fall in love with” when seeing them from the air. They tend to be pretty bleak and barren places, it’s very arid and rugged country.
- Australians don’t typically have the moral standards and social reputation paranoia of early Victorians. (Well, some might, but it’s not the norm).
- I’m pretty sure Australian pilots and outback farmers had more advanced communications technology than something called a “tranceiver” (also Chase supposedly transmits their crash location, yet all the rescue effort takes place in the wrong location?)
Anyway, read it if you think you can stomach this awful couple. All in all I think this dynamic would probably have worked better as a “desert sheikh romance”, it was just too implausible for a relatively modern-day western couple.