Miss Columbine and Harley Quinn by Margery Hilton

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It’s the seventies and all the clothes are nylon, tricel and “wincey” in various shades of orange and tangerine, and everything is just sooper!

Everything except the bizarre romance between a hopelessly immature teenager, Shelley, who’s 17-going-on-12, and an oddly withdrawn and bloodless hero, Harley Quinn, 35.

Shelley is so immature that that she doesn’t even get on with her cousin’s friends, who are only a couple of years older than her. They’re so bored with her they kick her out of their flat, which is how she ends up lodging in Harley Quinn’s spare room. Instead, she becomes friendly with the hero’s 16-year-old sister-in-law, Pamela, who is still vastly more smart and sophisticated than Shelley. Frankly I’m surprised Harley doesn’t go for Pamela, if he’s looking for a teenage bride.

This pretty dreadful, unconvincing, sexless – literally, Shelley breaks her shoulder the day before the wedding so they can’t have sex on the honeymoon (well, that’s one way to get out of writing a sex scene, I suppose) – relationship limps on and on. At no point does Harley seem particularly taken with Shelley despite his bizarre proposal. He even admits that he had “twinges of doubt” as to whether Shelley was ready for marriage. Twinges, Harley? Seriously? Only “twinges”? The girl is 17, woefully gauche, and has never even properly dated a boy her own age.

And to really ice this shit-cake with a cherry on top, we get this from the hero:

“I’m sorry you came too late, Shelley. Too late to the be the first. But isn’t it enough to be the last?”

No, Harley, it’s not. Not when you were clearly far more in love with “Myra Delane” who is vastly more sophisticated, sexy and suitable for you than poor gormless Shelley.

They do eventually have sex. I think, anyway, because it’s written like this:

There was no need of words now and no room for doubts within the cloak of love he was enfolding about her. It was a long time before she stirred and gazed up at him with the flowering strength of new surety.

I interpret this to mean that she laid there like a sack of potatoes while he fulfilled his promise that “the first time of ‘going all the way’ isn’t always the perfect joy it becomes later – for the girl”.

In terms of length (it seems longer than average, the print is very small in my copy) and the way it rambles on, and the weird sexless relationship with its vast age gap, this book is more like a Sara Seale than a Charlotte Lamb. Except Seale’s heroines tend to be “old souls”, unworldly but wise beyond their years. Shelley is just hopelessly, cringemakingly babyish.

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