Here’s a book that was heading for a solid C, then a D, and finally ended as an F. I reserve the F grade for books that contain issues that make me angry, or books that are so badly written it would be an insult to the other books I review if I didn’t F it—this is by an experienced author who has written books that I’ve loved, so it obviously isn’t in the latter category.
Eliza is teaching at a school for special needs children in London, living in a hovel, when she receives a visit from an old flame, Leo. Leo wants her to be nanny to his daughter from his short marriage and offers her an astronomical sum to do it. Because she can donate the money to her school, which needs it badly, Eliza agrees.
I have to explain a little about myself here without invading anyone’s privacy. I have had contact over a number of years with people who suffer from many learning difficulties, physical and mental. So I have a little experience. But that was only part of my problem.
Back to the book. Eliza is a martyr. She agrees to nanny Leo’s daughter, as anyone would, but doesn’t want any of the money for herself. It’s explained early on that she was engaged when she last met Leo. After a few weeks he proposed, she refused and told him she was engaged, without telling him that her fiancé was a paraplegic with severe mental deficiencies. She feels guilty because he drove home after she broke off their engagement and crashed into a tree. She continues not to tell him, so Leo thinks she is a cheating whore and treats her like one, for the most part. Martyr, full-blown. So she’s allowed herself to be engaged ever since, and because her fiancé is disabled and Leo isn’t, she thinks it’s fair to keep him in the dark. Not to tell him that she rejected him because she felt guilty over a man who couldn’t communicate, walk or pretty much anything else – very, very unfair.
Then she meets Leo’s daughter, who is blind. And immediately is filled with pity. Now she’s been teaching at a school for special needs children, or which contains special needs children, so didn’t she get the memo? The last thing people with any disability need is pity. The very last thing. I’ve just written a book with a deaf heroine, and I’m really, really careful to ensure that the only people who feel sorry for her are the shits. It’s a horrible thing to do to someone who has difficulties to conquer. Patronizing and insulting.
Eliza feels that the daughter has something missing, and then goes into an Annie Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher), getting great results. Because she’s the heroine. At least Eliza has a proper therapist who comes to visit her.
There were some breathtaking assumptions made. Like this one:
“It’s a fact of life that she will always need to have support around her.”
No, no, no. It’s not. Why does Alessandra need support because she’s blind? There doesn’t seem to be anything else wrong. Milburne has researched the condition that led to Alessandra’s blindness, but not how blind people are taught to be independent. Like Peter White, a British broadcaster, or David Blunkett, an ex-Member of Parliament needed support. I don’t think so. True, Blunkett has a dog. That kind of support? Not the way Eliza seems to understand it.
How about this?
“Can nothing be done?” Eliza asked. “There are advances happening in medicine all the time. Surely there’s something that can be done for her?”
Eliza’s an expert, a teacher, and the condition Alessandra has is a very common cause of blindness. So firstly, she’d know, and secondly, no. What can be done for her is to teach her to be independent.
The expert in blind children at one point says, “Her gaze went to where Alessandra was sitting in her high chair. ‘I bet that’s a one-night stand he’s regretted ever since.”
Making personal comments about one’s employer, and commenting in front of the child, is tactless and ignorant. How inappropriate can you get? Making assumptions about one’s employer, and thinking that it’s because the child is blind and not because the wife was unstable? Or that’s the implication, anyway.
“Even a sighted child would be hard to manage after suffering the loss of her mother.”
Do I have to explain how patronizing I find that sentence?
Then Leo says, about his late wife:
“She wasn’t the type to have an abortion and, to be honest, I didn’t want her to.”
So what type is that? Are there “types” of women who have abortions?
The issue surrounding Alessandra is what put the book into the F category. I fail to understand why a publisher like Harlequin would allow this through and how a writer as experienced as Milburne could believe it’s okay.
There is more that I didn’t like, though. Leo pays Eliza a million pounds to sleep with him. Or half a million. So she’s a prostitute as well, but it’s all right, because she’ll give the money to her fiancé’s mother, who needs it for special needs equipment. Okay then. Still a prostitute, though. Leo threatens to withhold his funding from the school if Eliza doesn’t do as he wants. Such a prince, to withdraw hope from teachers and pupils on a personal whim.
Leo doesn’t tell Eliza that his daughter is blind before she meets her. What? So she can’t prepare, can’t do some research? And he hides her away like a guilty secret, because he thinks she won’t stand a chance with the paparazzi. I can understand a celebrity keeping his family away from the press, but this is more than that.
At one point I wondered if I shouldn’t just DNF it, but I feel kind of obliged to read it to the end. Is it just me, or did anyone else reading this feel the same way?
Eliza Lincoln is stunned to find Leo Valente at her door; four years ago his passionate embrace was a brief taste of freedom from her suffocating engagement. Until Leo discovered her secret…
Yet he hasn’t come to rekindle their affair. He has a proposition he knows Eliza can’t refuse: she’s the only person who can help his small, motherless daughter.
Torn, Eliza can’t ignore a vulnerable child, but the last time she was near Leo her desire nearly consumed her. Is she willing to take that risk again now that the stakes are even higher?
Read an excerpt.