BLOG REVIEW: Beloved Ballerina by Roberta Leigh

23y.o. ballerina doesn't think she has what it takes to be a prima ballerina and is glad to be part of the corps de ballet.
30y.o. British diplomat didn't think much of heroine either, when they first met.
Until he saw her vibrant dance performance, 
where he then proceeded to ask her out. Their months of friendship grew until love. 
An impulsive decision to marry brought 3 months of wedded bliss in Paris, where Hero was temporarily assigned.
It was also time Hero thought his mother needed to come to grips with his married status.
His mother was civil enough to heroine, when she and Hero came to stay at his family estate.
But it soon became apparent to heroine that his mother was not happy that he married her.
And that Hero's closeness to his mother wasn't something to be trifled with,
no matter what heroine felt about it and what she wanted done differently.
The seeds his mother planted about heroine's relationship with her former ballet partner became embedded as Hero sees them together now,
even though she left her career to be with him and their new baby.
After realizing that his loyalties were deeply divided,
the only thing left to do was give him the space to figure out what and who he really wanted. 
Who does he choose? 

I was impressed at the psychological nuances of this 1970 Leigh book. Like other Leigh books, there was a confrontation element in the characters actions that made this book feel jarring. Hero was a big mama's boy, as was his brother. What impressed me was how subtly conniving Hero's mother was written. She was placating yet firm and rigid. Formal yet affectionate. Caring yet cold and controlling. It all depended on who she was interacting with. You got the good and caring side of her if you were her sons and/or you were following her directives. You got the rejecting and cruel side of her if you stood in her way. Hero and his brother couldn't understand why both their wives felt unfavorably about their mother. They didn't know their own mother started the battle and played the game so well that it passed over their heads. Hero's family dysfunction was hidden under the guise of their caring but formal mother. What made this different than the other Leigh books I've read was that the dysfunction was subtle yet persistent and it was rooted mainly in Hero's enmeshed relationship with his mother. And it was displayed in an overblown way at times. At other times, it was realistic.

The romance between Hero and heroine grew gradually and was doomed from the start. There was no insta-love or even insta-lust between them. Hero didn't even think she was attractive when he first met her. Nor the 3rd time. Her looks grew on him as their friendship developed. Heroine thought he was attractive but didn't think he was all that hot at first either. Seeing each other often in the next 3 months fostered her regard for him. Their decision to marry wasn't too surprising, given the amount of time they were spending together and the feelings that evolved. But it was impulsive because, as soon as Hero declared his love for her and then proposed, they got married within the same day.  Their 3-month newlywed period helped cement their romance, which heroine had no clue they would need for Hero's mother. Hero, on the other hand, knew it was going to cause some discomfort with his mother. So, in some way, his 3 months in Paris with heroine was a temporary reprieve from the trouble he knew he incurred by marrying heroine without informing his mother nor inviting her. 

What made their marriage doomed from the start was Hero's lack of insight. Part of it is from his choice to consistently disregard the evidence around him about his mother's ultra-controlling ways. The other part was his naive hope that the 2 women who loved him will grow to love each other too. He chose to remain emotionally dependent on his mother. He really had no motivation to cut the emotional cord between them. He reveled in her doting over him and treating him like a prince. They shared similar beliefs and tastes. He understandably had no reason to change anything in their relationship. Until heroine interfered by making him aware of his enmeshed relationship with his mother and making him choose between them. And his final choice was unfortunately not driven so much by his feelings for heroine. It was from a mixture of changes in his own family structure, multiple confrontations from different people, time, and his feelings for heroine. 

I liked the heroine. She may have been bland and nondescript in her looks and character at first. But she grew to have some grit and balls. Heroine actually ended up with balls and telling Hero to grow a pair. 

     ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details------------

At the ending, Hero apologized profusely for what he fool he'd been and for mistreating her and declared his loyalty to and love for heroine. I loved heroine's pragmatic and confrontational response:
       
     "You've been obsessed with your mother and you want me to believe that you're not. Well, I 
       don't think I can.  I still think there'll be times when you'll compare us, when you'll wish you
       could run away and become a little boy again. I don't believe you're a man yet, Julian,but
       if you want to be...if you're willing to fight then I'll come back and help you." (p. 148)

Wow. That's just not something I ever expected to read in a Harlequin Presents (HP) novel. And I loved it!  If Roberta Leigh was around, I would've high-fived her. I glimpsed her facetiousness in writing this book. The last sentence of the book was very tongue-in-cheek with "All the problems dissolved in the magic of the last phrase"(p. 148), which was referring to Hero mentioning having "a home of (their) own".  As if being on their own (i.e., outside of his mother's direct influence) was really going to solve all their problems. It implied how much more work Hero and heroine have to do in their marriage.  And Hero in his emotional maturity.  Heroine was right to be cautious of his promises. He wasn't separated long enough from his mother to be firm in his emotional independence. He made a good start by honestly talking to his mother about the wrongs he finally saw and what he wanted to do about it. I liked that he didn't completely reject her and was open to a new relationship with her. It would be out of character for him to do so. He had to continue to be physically separated from his mother for their marriage to have any chance of succeeding and for him to psychologically mature.  

One thing I liked about the Hero was that he wasn't a man-ho. He wasn't an alpha male. He was a nice, thoughtful, and respectful man who wanted harmony and love between his loved ones. So it didn't surprise me that he stayed celibate for the 3 years they were separated as heroine did.  He was tempted by other women but he didn't want any more romantic complications and he also missed heroine. 

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I'd like to believe that Hero and heroine were headed towards their HEA(happy ever after). There's a lot of maturing that Hero has to do and toughness heroine must continue with for their marriage to stay a happy course. 

Heroine matured more than Hero in the book. Her initial silence and insecurity transformed into frankness and having solid limits. Fighting her mother-in-law's antagonism and being rejected by her own husband time after time drove her to be a tougher person. She forged a career she never thought to go back to and soar in. She made huge sacrifices to fight the uphill battle for her daughter's sake. But I had a big problem with how and what she sacrificed.

       ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details------------

Heroine left her baby daughter's care with someone she didn't like or trust: her MIL and the stern family nurse who unquestionably followed her MIL. For 3 years. 3 years!!!  Ok, so she worked tooth and nail to become a successful ballerina so the court's wouldn't be able to question her ability to financially support her daughter. I get that. What I didn't get was why it took her 3 years to decide to finally pursue custodial matters regarding her daughter. She had the money way before that, with her luxurious apartment and expensive clothing. It seemed like she was in no rush at all to go and get her daughter from the clutches of people she deemed unsafe with her daughter.  From the time her daughter was 2 months old to 3 years old, she only saw her daughter twice. Not because she was disallowed. Hero and her MIL gave her visitation access to her daughter whenever she wanted. Heroine didn't want to visit her daughter because it might cause both of them undue stress and make her waver in her decisions re: Hero.

What's sadder was that Hero neglected their daughter too. Their daughter was 2 months old when Hero touched her again since the day she was born. Then he didn't touch her again and avoided looking at her (because she resembled heroine) until heroine came to visit their 6-month-old daughter before she left for a long dance tour. Hero did start spending some time with their daughter, when he was at home. But he tended to be gone half a year and stay at the family estate a few weeks before he was re-assigned somewhere else again. Their daughter was emotionally neglected by her nurse, her grandmother, and her parents. 

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Heroine's sacrifices did pay off in one way but it made me wonder if it was worth it in the long run.

I moderately recommend this book.
3.5-star

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting book and great review! I'm not sure if I read this or not, I'll have to look at see but it does sound rather different from most HPs.

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    1. Anonymous, it certainly is a different HP. I gave it an extra half star just for it ;)

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