A Match for Sister Maggy

A Match for Sister Maggy is another Betty Neels book, which means another poor English nurse meets a rich Dutch doctor and has a chaste romance. This one, from 1979, is older than A Girl Named Rose, but slightly less dated and slightly less contrived. It’s also been sold as A Nurse in Holland and Amazon in an Apron.

Maggy MacFergus is almost six foot, large and large breasted, a great nurse, and sensible, in the patronizing way that people of modest ambition are called sensible. She’s also very Scottish. She has a charming meet cute with the handsome and even taller Dr. Paul Doelsma, and he takes advantage of the occasion to plant a kiss on her, so she will remember him. Now it would be sexual harassment. Actually, it was sexual harassment then, too.

I didn’t like Paul – we got off to a bad start when he surveyed an assembly of nurses, found the plain ones, and then assumed they would ask questions because plain girls have ego problems. Paul’s very rich, and used to getting his way in all things, thanks to family money and his social status. But, for reasons I don’t understand, Maggy was attracted to him even as she dismissed his kiss as “boys will be boys.” She doesn’t expect to see him again, but his mother ends up in her hospital, and Maggy’s skills prove life-saving.

Paul hires Maggy to be his mother’s private nurse, and she accompanies him back to Holland. Since mother just needs to rest, and there are household staff, she has lots of free time, and spends much of it seeing the country and ancestral homesteads with Paul. She proves to be more than a match for his attitude by riding his horse, driving his car, and otherwise demonstrating independence. Paul’s not used to this, and he’s attracted by it, but he does not bother to say so. Nor does he explain a date with another nurse, or his regular absences.

Reading this was an exercise in frustration. It’s well written and I enjoyed Maggy’s generally strong character. However, I wish at least one of them had made their feelings clear sooner. Paul assumes she is his for the taking, which is at least consistent with his obnoxious character. Maggy assumes he prefers someone else, and hides her own feelings, which is not consistent with her otherwise blunt and plain spoken manner. And I still have no idea why she liked him in the first place. His money? Being taller than her? She is nae so shallow as that, surely? Sure, he makes a grand romantic move at the end, but it’s what people do everyday that counts.

Complicating matters is subplot involving a poor and probably abused woman. It adds some grit, but otherwise the purpose is unclear. Does Maggy hope to avoid this fate by marrying money? Is this a hint of Maggy’s future under a domineering man, or what happens when you don’t stand up to such a man?

When I reviewed A Girl Named Rose I said “I’ve no urge to seek out another of Neels’ books, but I admire her success, and should another one turn up in the laundry room, I’ll be happy to pick it up for a gentle read.” If I see another one, I’ll probably leave it there. The casual seventies sexism and lack of heat are handicaps that few stories can rise above. The bubble bath rating is dollar store lavender.