Three things irked me about the hero in Chase a Green Shadow: 37-ish Welsh writer Hywel, who’s paired with 17-year-old Tamsyn.
- The first is that his name – Hywel Benedict – sounds just like the actor Hywel Bennet (also Welsh)
- He’s described looking just like Welsh singer Tom Jones, all dark and hairy with massive sideburns that “reached his jawline” and a “thick covering of dark hair” on his wrist (euurgggh), “harshly carved features and deeply set eyes”, and he smokes a pipe in the car
- Most critically, he apparently fell in love with Tamsyn at first sight, despite being twice her age, her father’s friend, and despite her being a really juvenile and bratty teenager. If he had simply lusted after her, fair enough. But no: “I’ve loved you since that day you stood in the airport lounge and asked so nervously to see my credentials!”
I can’t admire any of that.
That’s not to say this isn’t a good book. It’s Anne Mather after all, and she’s always excellent value. The hero just seemed so far from Love’s Young Dream that it was rather unpleasant. Older men are at least supposed to be rich, powerful, devastatingly sexy and a bit of a rake. Not rude, ugly, hairy apes. I was reminded of the awful “swarthy Welshman” hero in Jilly Cooper’s Octavia.
Then there’s this endless faff about how she can’t be seen “at his place” in case of Village Gossip. So it’s okay for her father’s friend to drive 200 miles to pick her up from the airport, with the two of them alone in his car that whole time. But the minute they’re back in Llandrindol-Y-Cwm it’s going to be a national scandal if they’re even seen speaking together?
“If anyone was to see my car parked outside here at this time of night with your father and Joanna away there would be plenty to talk about, wouldn’t there?”
Now this book is set in 1974. And in fairness, English villages – and doubtless Welsh villages too – could be pretty gossipy and priggish back then. One of my parents’ friends had a Readers’ Wives photo of herself published in a porn mag, and the village was so scandalised that they called a village meeting (how the hell did they find out about the photo, one might ask?) to discuss the problem. I’m not sure what they thought they’d do: chase her out with burning pitchforks?
Anyway, I digress. The point is that the mores here seemed a little over-the-top for the 1970s. A rather tantalising theme – that regrettably doesn’t go anywhere – is that Hywel is a lay preacher. But we don’t get any religious angst or defrocking or anything like that. It just makes him frankly rather staid and boring. Religiosity is only interesting in a Romance if we’re going to get some super-forbidden-priest-passion etc. And we don’t.
The whole outcome of this novel is also odd. Yes, it’s the 1970s, and there were still women who didn’t work/have careers. But Tamsyn’s obsession with housekeeping is not exactly aspirational, even for the era. (Hywel only married his first wife because “She was older than I was, and I needed a housekeeper.”) And despite throughout the whole novel being considered too young to even spend a night by herself in a house with the Grown-Ups away, she’s considered old enough to get married?
Tamsyn’s future looks absolutely bleak. Some hairy Welsh bloke with no money who’s old enough to be her dad, stuck in the Welsh Valleys, playing housekeeper.