Love in the Afternoon, the final book in the "Hathaway Family" series features, arguably, the quirkiest member of a unique family, in a reverse Cyrano de Bergerac story.
Beatrix Hathaway has always had a special affinity for all aspects of Nature, but especially animals. She is almost fey and her family is concerned that no man will ever be able to understand and accept her eccentricities without trying to change her. Beatrix has a menagerie made up of wounded animals she has found and healed and she sees in Captain Christopher Phelan another wounded animal crying out for help.
Christopher was your basic, fashionable ton bon vivant before he went to war, but his assignment as a sniper has changed him irrevocably. He hints of his growing despair in a letter to Prudence, whom he was beginning to court before leaving the country. Prudence, an even more shallow creature than Christopher, tosses the letter to her friend Beatrix who finds that she cannot ignore the unspoken plea for help and asks Prudence if she can respond to him. So begins a moving correspondence between Beatrix and Christopher during which they both fall in love. Beatrix cuts off the eight month communication, realizing she cannot lie to him about her identity any longer, with the cryptic message: "Come back. Please come home and find me." Of course, when he does come home, he finds that Prudence, his love, is very different from her letters.
The first five chapters deal with Beatrix and Christopher's correspondence. These are wonderful letters - funny, sweet, moving, delightful letters, and it is easy to see how they fell in love. Christopher is confused when "Prudence" stops writing, but it doesn't take him long at all to realize that the woman he is waiting on in London is not the woman who wrote to him and saved his sanity. In fact, that odd creature, Beatrix Hathaway, oddly pulls at him when he is in the country visiting his family. His gradual realization of the truth is well done, but his reaction to it is one of the few missteps in the book.
Beatrix is an altogether delightful character. I've enjoyed watching her grow up through the series, gaining in self-confidence, but maintaining her innocence and sense of wonder. (I wondered, more than once, if her name wasn't an homage to Beatrix Potter, the author of Peter Rabbit.) Her desire to heal Christopher combined with her down to earth sexual desire for him rang true to me. Christopher has indeed been damaged by the war and there are plenty of obstacles to overcome even after identities are resolved and love established. It is a riveting section of the novel and, at times, a heartbreaking one.
I am sorry to say goodbye to the Hathaway Family, though I know I will be revisiting them from my Keeper Shelf, and I look forward to what is to come from Lisa Kleypas.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, July 13, 2010