A superb, Seventies spectacular of an insanely implausible but enjoyable plot, The Passionate Winter is a must-read for any vintage Romance fan.
We’ve got a (barely) 18-year-old heroine, a 37-year-old playboy hero (who’s also her boyfriend’s dad) and a plot that is racy, ridiculous and a romp to end all romps. Leigh falls in insta-lust with Piers Sinclair, a former racing driver, who “rescues” her from his son’s nefarious intentions to seduce her, and is soon slavering all over her himself.
She has parents who blithely invite Piers for Christmas when he shows up at their house in the middle of the night with their teenage daughter, and even give her some alone time with him. “You really don’t mind?” “Don’t be silly, darling. He’s absolutely fascinating.” My parents would have called the police.
An excellent parallel for this book is Caroline by Anne Mather. Caroline was Mather’s first novel, written when she was just 19, and also features a teenage heroine and not-very-believable over-passionate, barely-controlling-himself older man. The Passionate Winter is Mortimer’s debut novel, written when she was only 18, with the same scenario of a teenage heroine and a rakish bloke twice her age who can’t control his urges.
The 1970s are out in full force: fashion, food and fastidious mores. There’s an awful lot of talk about Leigh’s virginity and will she/won’t she sacrifice it and so on, and is she a wanton slut if she does? And Piers is constantly all over her and blaming her for his arousal.
Seriously. There’s a scene in which he’s been exploring her “firm untilted breasts” (“untilted” – WTF? perhaps “uptilted” is meant, there were a few typos in my copy, including a “petrol blue” dress) and then she puts her hand up his jumper and feels his back muscles.
“Stop it, Leigh! Don’t you realise what you’re doing to me? Do you think I can take much more of ths?”
“What, Piers?” Her violet eyes provoked him to further action. “What am I doing to you?”
“You know damn well what you’re doing to me,” he groaned. “But I don’t care any more. I just don’t care!”
There’s a LOT of this kind of stuff: heavy petting, things nearly going further but then not. Often they’re interrupted. Piers is about to bang Leigh in his own bedroom at his own party – rather a sexy scene, he’s pressing her down on the bed – when one of the briefest Other Women in Romance novel history appears at the door (she has a “tinkling laugh” for anyone playing Mills & Boon bingo). There’s also rather excruciating dialogue where Piers does some mansplaining about “sex” vs “making love”, when Leigh is fretting about “not knowing how to please him”.
“Sex is completely different from making love. Sex is just the satisfying of bodily senses, whereas making love is the union of two people who love each other and want to give themselves to each other. It’s something I’ve never experienced either, and I can assure you I’m just as nervous as you are.”
Yeah. God, this is superb nonsense, isn’t it?
On the menu we have grapefruit starters and prawn cocktail, barbecued chicken and lemon sorbet. But my absolute favourite – a “mandarin cheesecake” – you just know it’s decorated with those little segments of canned mandarin harvested to extinction by the 1980s.
Endless sheepskin coats, velvet trousers and waistcoats (for girls), ruffly shirts (for men), and this. Our first sight of Piers:
Dark brown hair, almost black, flecked with grey at the temples, grew low on his collar and the sideburns low on his jawline. He was dressed in close-fitting black trousers and a black silk shirt unbuttoned almost to the waistband of his trousers, and looked very lean and attractive. Over these he wore a thick sheepskin jacket, and Leigh found herself wishing that he would take it off so she could see him better.
This is what Piers wears around his own home, while alone. An unbuttoned shirt and a sheepskin jacket.
Interestingly Leigh gets to keep her job as a trainee nurse. It’s nice to see a book throwing a bit of support behind women’s careers, rather than the usual vintage Romance ending of them becoming corporate wives and mothers. Also interestingly, they consummate before the marriage (though he has proposed).
I love this book. I love everything about it because it reminds me of the sort of nonsense ideas and fantasies I had about Older Men when I was 18. So I totally get why Caroline Mortimer wrote it the way she did, and I thank her for it.