Mary Burchell wrote an astounding number of books for Mills and Boon/Harlequin before her death. And before I wrote the review of her autobiography “Safe Passage,” I hadn’t heard of her or her books. What a loss that would have been as I’m discovering that she was an amazing author.
Anna was sure she’d made a mistake in marrying Tony Roone. Not that she didn’t love him, but she felt she had nothing to give him.
As a compensation, she had made a career for herself as a singer – but found success wasn’t satisfying. Only when things went wrong did they begin to really find each other!
That sounds like such a pitiful description when measured against the contents of the book. Today I’m sure there would be something included like, “after one night of unforgettable love, Tony and Anna find themselves torn apart but the cruel demands of his society family and her shrinking belief that she could never match the glittering future that is so clearly his!” Or maybe, “to buffer her broken heart, Anna throws herself into training for a grand career on the operatic stages of Europe. Only to find that dazzling triumph can’t compensate for the chance for true love!” Of course there must be exclamation points in these blurbs because we’re talking about grand passion here.
Only the book didn’t start out as if I was going to be sucked into it like a space vortex. When Tony begins calling Anna “child,” and treating her like one, I closed my eyes and thought, “not another superior hero who comes off more like a father figure and a tiny mouse of a heroine who, despite her description as bewitching, will be pathetically grateful to him for the course of the book.” Because Anna has nothing and is nothing while Tony comes from a world in which he’d always had every advantage and known that everything would always work out.
These two are both surprised at their quick romance and each seems to know, in the secret depths of the heart, just what they’re up against. And they’re up against almost everyone. His family is openly appalled that he’s marrying this common little nobody. The biddies of the small Yorkshire village where they met clearly believe that he’s only marrying her because he “Has To,” – insert delicious shiver at the salacious gossip. And once Anna and Tony arrive in London, things only go rapidly downhill on greased wheels. What a way to start a marriage.
But even as Tony is calling Anna a child, he also feels that sometimes she’s wiser than he. I felt that despite his education and position, Anna actually knows more about life and, pardon the term, hard knocks than he can possibly imagine. She can easily see that his family use calmness and polite manners as weapons and know exactly how to insert and twist the blade to make it hurt the most. And despite the fact that I know that when you hit someone, you’ve already lost the argument, I couldn’t help but feel slightly smug when Anna smacks her way out of one confrontation.
It says something for Burchell’s writing that when Anna makes the decision to leave Tony, I could feel that she truly felt it was for the best. That she did it for Tony. Generally martyr heroines make me want to go get the rope to tie them to the railroad tracks myself but not in this case. However, it’s a good thing that Anna lands on her feet and has a talent that others are willing to foster.
I know that Burchell was a lifelong fan of opera and she uses her knowledge of that world and those people to amazing effect. As I read about Anna beginning to learn how to be an opera singer, and not merely learning to use her natural voice, I got lost in the power of it and the power of her transformation as a person. When she meets Tony again, this time he’s the one who is a little in awe while she is the one who can spare him half an hour. But they still don’t understand each other, although I can see they’re both still in love with the other, so they part again as Anna heads off to Paris as the protege of a great conductor and his lover.
This whole time, as Anna’s voice is nurtured and she sees the glamorous world which appreciates such talent, I began to feel almost sorry for Tony’s family. Sure they have a position in society which family connections has given them. They have money and status but they don’t have what Anna has! A god given talent that is bestowed on few and for a fleeting time only. They will never know the adulation that pulls performers back to the stage. As Manora tells Anna, “There is a fascination that one cannot resist, you know. I think,” she said slowly, “that is why so few of us will not or cannot listen when time says: ‘Stop now if you would be remembered at your greatest.’ ”
So, Anna and Tony are separated and appear to be headed in different directions. “Hmmmm, how will this work out?” I puzzled. The answer is to be found in another conversation Anna and Manora have about life, love and careers as opera singers. What is one willing to give up to find the kind of love and/or marriage both yearn for? Manora tells Anna and at this point in the story, after having seen the public adoration and praise with which Manora is heaped, the telling makes a strong impact.
In the last section of the book, Anna and Tony meet again but this time it is Anna who is the one with something to offer that Tony needs. And it is Anna who proves that it isn’t a person’s background or social status which gives one worth. I wondered at the unspoken condemnation of Burchell for a whole class of English society while at the same time she elevated the foreigners of the book, all of whom would never be truly accepted by that class because of either birth or marital status.
By the end of the book, Anna and Tony have a chance to start over and find the happy ending which would never have been possible had events not played out as they did. Anna’s decision will astound some, disappoint others but felt totally in keeping with the earlier discussion she has with Manora about what someone will give for the kind of love that is granted to few. And at this point, I felt that Tony might finally be worthy of such a love and equal to returning it.
This book is currently out of print.
- Date: Nov-1973
- Publisher: Harlequin
- ISBN: 0373017332