REVIEW: Yet Love Remains by Mary Burchell
To fall for Charles is the last thing Helen expected … but will her lies cost her the love of her life?
When Helen Debenham agrees to help her friend Sylvia out of her unhappy marriage to the famous playwright Charles Lane, the last thing she expects is to find love waiting in the wings.
Conditioned from childhood to look after her needy friend, Helen doesn’t question Sylvia’s portrayal of Charles as a cruel, temperamental philanderer. But as she comes to know the real Charles much better than she had ever intended, suddenly her feelings are rewriting the script for her.
Astonished to find Charles a very different character from the one Sylvia has depicted, she quickly comes to regret the part she’s agreed to play in their separation. Especially when she realises she’s falling in love with him … and he still has no idea how she’s deceived him…
But does she know Charles as well as she thinks? And how will he react if her deception is uncovered?
Can Helen keep playing her role for ever, or is heartbreak waiting around the corner?
Set in London and the English countryside, YET LOVE REMAINS is a compelling 20th century tale of romance and deceit with an intriguing twist.
Oh, the angst. Oh, the melodrama. Oh, how the plot dates this one. Let’s go back in time to when divorce was a bit unsavory though obtainable especially if one is a (terribly) needy and surface level woman who has a best friend who feels somewhat responsible for you because you’re just that delicate flower who needs tending to. Too late friend Helen realizes that Sylvia has everything neatly planned and is ruthless about them sticking to that plan.
But wait, shall we talk plot a bit? Helen Debenham and Sylvia have been friends since school. When Helen is orphaned, Sylvia’s mother (does anyone else hear Dr. Hook singing that 1972 song?) takes Helen under her wing and ends up paying the tuition for Helen’s nursing course. After Helen leaves for America for a job in Washington, Sylvia’s mother writes and asks Helen to be there for Sylvia because Sylvia is just the type to get herself into messes and need help.
Job finished, Helen meets a tall, dark, and handsome mystery man on the boat trip back but parts ways thinking never to see him again. Catching up with her friend, Helen discovers that Sylvia’s marriage is on the rocks (well, Helen was skeptical even when Sylvia was rhapsodizing about it) and that because (cruel) Charles Lane refuses her little teensy weensy request to divorce so Sylvia can marry (milquetoast) Richard, Sylvia needs Helen to take part in a theatrical production Sylvia has devised called “Be a Co-respondent.” All Helen has to do is show up at Charles’s remote cottage on the moors, stay the night, and be there en deshabille for Sylvia plus her barrister uncle to find in the morning.
To her credit Helen has her doubts and reservations but Sylvia paints Charles with a dark brush and swears that he’s been unfaithful to her. Really? asks Helen. Yep, you betcha. I’m pretty sure, says Sylvia.
I think we can all guess who Charles turns out to be but hip-deep in it already, Helen continues with the charade even though Charles is nothing but kindness and solicitude for this woman who shows up, at night, in the pouring rain at his doorstep. Hmmm, as she gets to know him, Helen thinks that maybe Charles isn’t as bad as Sylvia makes out. Too late now and the divorce goes through but poor Helen is in the soup because of it then won’t ask for help. Wait, it turns out Charles has fallen in love with Helen enough to confess his sad childhood and the reason he wouldn’t initially give Sylvia the divorce. Could this mean Helen has found her true love? But what will happen when the truth, as it inevitably does and at the worst time, comes out?
Overall, I liked this one but it is dated (first published in 1938 and redone a bit in the mid 70s) and does have its problems. Sylvia is a huge one but by the end somehow I think Helen has shed the need to take care of poor widdle Syliva. Sylvia is that kind of needy woman in distress who can hook men into dropping everything to hike ten miles through a snowstorm to the store because she’s out of milk for her coffee. I used to work with a woman like that and even though I knew what she was (probably unconsciously) doing, I still had to restrain myself from volunteering to help her, so I know Sylvias exist.
Helen is a much better friend but let’s be honest and admit that Helen, despite her second thoughts and third thoughts and feelings that she should have done more investigation before agreeing, goes through with Sylvia’s plan. When she learns more about how badly Charles was treated by his parents (really, it lays out exactly how badly he’s going to be hurt by Helen’s actions), Helen feels even worse but, she desperately tries to tell herself, Charles need never know. Yeah, right.
Charles’s stark pain at this betrayal is obvious to Helen but he goes through part of the farce of their honeymoon (not to Italy though as that is a place for love) then plans to send Helen away with an allowance that will let her live comfortably. Through most of the book, Charles is truly a nice guy under it all. To her credit Helen realizes that if she gives up now, their marriage can never be saved so she gamely sticks to him like a happy homemaker barnacle. She also becomes fiercely defensive of Charles when Sylvia breezes through town.
The way things work out takes them through their own private purgatory with loads of angst and heartache which would probably have been viewed as necessary atonement in 1938. Today I think this would be viewed as a Harlequin Presents. I’ll give Burchell credit for not making any of the characters perfect – they all do something reprehensible. It’s obvious to them, and the reader, that they still love each other but Charles needs to dish out a side of comeuppance to Helen before he realizes what he’s doing and reverses course, and Helen tries her best, through her feelings of guilt, to roll with it. Readers looking for Helen to stand up and kick ass to get his attention and love back will be disappointed. But in the end, both of them prove to the other that “yet love remains.” Burchell’s writing ability saves this one. B-