So Close and No Closer, by Penny Jordan

27 Jan

This novel has been in the monstrous TBR shelves for…well, at least a couple of years, but probably more. I have already failed January’s installment of SLWendy’s TBR Challenge, but given Ms Jordan’s recent passing, I feel it fitting to review it nonetheless.

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So Close and No Closer, by Penny Jordan

Originally released in 1989, this category romance definitely reflects the mores of the day, though both it and Ms Jordan were popular enough to warrant a Collector’s Edition re-release in 1991. There were several things I liked about this story, not the least of which is the setting, a lovely village somewhere near Cambridge, England¹.

The back cover blurb is typical of the time (though really, it doesn’t seem the misleading has changed all that much):

Rue had lost her innocence and self-respect when she married the wrong man. A single woman once more, she had now built a new life for herself. No man would ever take from her again.

So why did her neighbor, Neil Saxton, think she needed his help? He seemed so genuine—and so devastatingly attractive—it was difficult to maintain her defenses. Until she discovered that Neil had his own reasons for getting close to her…

Even though she’s in her mid-twenties, Rue is a very young heroine from my point of view. Having lost her mother as an infant, she was raised by her wealthy father in a rather unhealthy manner, isolated from people her own age. Still, it’s a happy enough life until tragedy strikes and her elderly father dies. Alone and unworldly, Rue is easy prey for the first predator to come around the bend.

I am not spoiling anything when I say that Rue does marry said predator, with disastrous results—not only is it spelled out in the blurb, but we are told so within a few pages of the beginning of the novel. Then again, considering the total length (just a handful over two hundred pages) there is very little space to waste in backstory. Both of these probably explain why there is so very little real conflict in the story.

Our hero, Neil Saxton, was much more sympathetic to me—perhaps because I didn’t get to read his internal dialogue the way I got Rue’s. A self-made man (computers—we all know that in the mid to late 80s every computer geek became a millionaire) he has bought the mansion where Rue grew up. Eager to protect his investment from enterprising developers, he looks into buying Vine Cottage.

Vine Cottage and its adjacent fields are all that Rue has left of her father’s fortune. Having retired there to lick her wounds at the end of her marriage, it is now both her home and her business: Rue grows flowers that she then dries (and sometimes dies) to sell for home décor, as well as some herbs she sells to the area restaurants and hotels. I confess that I really liked the ingenuity of this aspect of the story. Without going into tedious detail, Ms Jordan gives us enough of a look into Rue’s life with her father and the actual drying of the flowers to see how logical, even organic, it is for Rue to find a way to make a living out of this interest.

It is also consistent with Rue’s upbringing that she would further isolate herself from the world—and, obviously, from men—after her marriage. But it is her interactions and reactions to Neil that make me see her as young. She is hiding from life, afraid of it, and not only resents her own reactions to Neil’s attention, she also somehow imagines all sorts of nefarious intentions for his every word and gesture, to the point where (when there were only a few pages left in the novel) I felt like shaking her.

There isn’t, as it’s so often the case in romance, a big misunderstanding. Rather, it’s an accumulation of small misinterpretations. No, not quite that either. Rue literally looks for the worst possible meaning to Neil’s actions and words all the way to the bitter end. Instead of oh, I don’t know, going crazy and asking him what he means.

*head desk*

(This is probably why I tend to avoid category romances to this day, unless recommended by a reader/reviewer I know and trust.)

There is a dog in the story, the loyal Horatio. I loved that, while absolutely devoted to Rue, she thinks of him a ‘not a brave dog’ and that Ms Jordan doesn’t make him the unlikely, anthropomorphic hero of the story.

The story spans a couple of weeks at most, and it’s very tame, sex-wise. A few kisses, one rather (and very well written) clinch, and the consummation as the very last scene. I confess that, as I closed the book, I was not convinced the protagonists had a real chance, because Rue doesn’t grow from the first to the last page.

But here is the funny thing: even with all the things that bothered me about the novel—mainly, Rue’s “woe is me” attitude—I managed to read So Close and No Closer in one sitting. Ms Jordan’s writing voice here is soft and fluid, lulling the reader into this world she has build, so by the time one looks up, the novel is over and a couple of hours are gone.

I do not think I will re-read this novel, but I am still on the hunt for Shadow Marriage, one of Ms Jordan’s earlier works (1984) that I read in the first Spanish translation and that, to this day, I remember clearly.

So Close and No Closer gets a 5 out of 10—with a full point of that due to both Horatio and Neil.

Godspeed, Ms Jordan—and thank you.

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Nota bene: in my copy, the British spelling is preserved, which quite delighted me.)

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