Gael is one of the most appealing and also credible of Sara Seale’s heroines. She’s only eighteen but a genuine “old soul”. There’s the usual unpalatable Seale guff to present her as even younger than that – the endless references to her child like form, and her being a “thin little girl”. But she knows her own mind, she’s brilliant with horses, and she’s an amazing gambler.
The problem in this book is Richard. He’s profoundly irritating. First, he’s a completely useless dilettante who has spent his life living on a private income and shagging various women. He’s also useless with money/business: all his wealth is invested in a single shareholding! It’s not even a family company or anything. Then, when the shit starts to hit the fan, he simply leaves his money there. Most people would sell out, but oh no! Not Richard. Then when it’s inevitably all gone, he puts his last few hundred on a horse (it loses). Finally, only when he’s completely broke, does he head back to Gael and propose. Apparently with some insane notion of “raising a family” in Ireland.
We’ve already been told the land is poor. We’ve already seen Gael’s family on the breadline having to sell their only asset because they can’t make ends meet. We’ve also seen their neighbour/Gael’s ex fiancée quit Ireland for Canada, because the land is just too shitty to make a go of farming. What exactly are Richard’s plans for the future? We never find out.
Despite Richard never being described as particularly attractive, and being a useless idle arse when it comes to business and work, every woman in the book is fawning over him – even his teenage (or near teenage) cousin. Why?
Most mystifyingly, when he first stays with Gael, she gets him to take her to a local country dance. Despite the fact she has a fiancé next door who could easily take her. Who does that? What 18-year-old asks a strange, unattractive man twice her age to take her to a village dance? How come she’s never been to a dance before? The whole thing is just odd, and Richard’s thoughts are all fairly unpleasant and critical of her dress and the dance and how “cheap” it all is. Most people would just regard it as charmingly rustic, but not our lazy International Playboy, oh no. Plus he’s totally hung up on his mistress (who has refused to marry him).
There is a kiss… make the most of it, because it’s pretty much all you’ll get:
He didn’t know what impulse made him take her in his arms and kiss her. Perhaps he had still felt the enchantment of that moment when he had come upon her dancing; perhaps it was only kindly remorse for having spoilt her evening. She looked up at him in a dazed fashion, then put her arms round his neck and kissed him with an ardency which took him by surprise.”
This comes right after he has been mentally whingeing about wanting his mistress there, and right before he starts calling her “child” again.
Ultimately an interesting and appealing heroine is wasted here on a truly unappealing “hero”.