REVIEW: Mixed Marriage The Diary of a Portuguese Bride by Elizabeth Cadell
This is the diary of an English girl who falls in love with an eligible young Portuguese, Afonso. The bride recounts, vividly and hilariously, her and her Mother’s plans for an English country wedding, how they dealt with Uncle George (The Head Of The Family), and their success in making sure that on her wedding day the church was filled with music and flowers (both officially banned due to the “mixed” marriage of a Catholic bridegroom and a Church of England bride).
She subsequently finds herself living on a horse-rearing estate in a rural part of Portugal, coping with a truculent cook, a primitive kitchen (no electricity, no gas, no fly screens, no taps — unlike the stables, which were far more up-to-date) and watching a husband gradually turning into a horse before her eyes….
In Lisbon, a four-hour drive away, lived her husband’s parents, his nine brothers and sisters, an unending procession of aunts, uncles and cousins, and a large number of family servants. She recounts the ups and downs of the early months of her married life at Reinaldo, the family property which she struggles to make her own.
Friends and neighbours are also keenly observed in this light-hearted, observant and humorous account of a girl’s path from an English country cottage and a London flat, to love, marriage and motherhood on a traditional country estate in Portugal.
I had read the except for this before buying it and once I’d finished it, I bought it post-haste. This is absolutely hilarious. In fact, I think it’s my favorite Cadell book so far. There is no murder or mystery at all – just romance. Well, romance and family. There’s a lot of family. First we see the English relations as the countdown to the wedding begins. The Bride’s practical Mother and the somewhat officious Uncle George who as Head of the Family feels duty bound and determined to Do His Duty – aka interfere like mad and throw his weight around. The Bride’s flatmate’s boyfriend (with no job) almost drives them both mad trying to win Philippa away from the cad with the yellow sports car (who has a job) while the Bride’s Mother subtly schemes to make sure that There Will be music at the wedding. Meanwhile the Bride dissolves into tears as the tension mounts and is frequently comforted by her intended Afonso who loves her to pieces.
But that’s just the start. Soon she reaches Lisbon where a “small family gathering” is considered by Mama and Papa to be a mere sixteen people to dinner. Then comes the send off to the estate which is likened by the Bride to be something out of the scene from “War and Peace” when the French were almost at the gates of Moscow. The greatest shock arrives when they arrive and the Bride realizes she didn’t truly listen to Afonso when he told her about her new home.
Told entirely as journal entries from the Bride’s POV, I laughed almost non-stop at Cadell’s subtle humor and zinging one liners. I imagine that she must have seen families like Afonso’s and estates like this one. Initially the Bride sometimes comes off a little distracted and at times slightly smug in English superiority but Afonso does a great job going to bat for Portugal. By the end we can really see how much she’s come to love the place and the family as well as the husband. Though, of course, there are growing pains and learning curves as the marriage steams full ahead. Their battle over the Bride’s longed for gas cylinder stove (see the cover image) is the perfect example.
Got out of Land Rover, went into shop. No bother buying stove, slight check about gas cylinders as necessary to sign papers. Signed them, wrote cheque, remembered suddenly that horse money probably not paid into Afonso’s account but estate account, too late to worry, not worried anyway, signed cheque and had gas stove and gas cylinders loaded on to Land Rover, went back to shop to find out name of future supplier of cylinders. Got into Land Rover, saw Afonso coming, lost nerve and said earnest prayer for preservation of happy married relations. Saw with surprise Afonso walked past Land Rover, realised hadn’t recognised it with unfamiliar load. Saw him stop and turn. Renewed prayers with increased fervour. Opened eyes to see Afonso standing beside Land Rover trying to speak. No words. Saw him get into Land Rover and sit at wheel staring straight ahead, still no words. I said in desperate voice, did he love me? He turned to stare at me and after long consideration, said yes.
Cadell does a marvelous job of showing not only what the other characters are thinking and feeling but also their reactions and movements. I can easily “see” the scenes. She also paints the Bride as being much more liberal and cosmopolitan than her English family and quite ready to defend Afonso, Portugal, and her choices to her family – even Uncle George. Of course once she actually gets to the estate that has no electricity, running water or fly screens over the windows – the game changes just a little. Still when the Bride tells Afonso their happy news, everything is joyous.
Thought, when in own room after dinner, of how to break news, came out of reverie to hear Afonso, brushing teeth in bathroom, say he supposed Mama and I had spent last few days in shops. Said yes, and I had got something for his birthday. He said rather early for birthday present, but what was it? I said little colt or perhaps little filly, too early to say. Afonso went on brushing teeth. Brushing slowed, stopped, toothbrush fell into basin, Afonso swallowed large quantity of toothpaste, turned and stared at me through open doorway, mouth agape. Asked me what I had said? Asked him if he could teach me how to whinny, and would he please wipe foam off lips, news stupendous, but not as stupendous as all that. Handed him towel, found self enfolded in embrace, Afonso murmuring incoherently My wife My wife. I said in present circumstances, this very reassuring.