Helen Faye has a story she is dying to tell. It may be a true story -- at some level, it is surely based
on personal experience or at any rate on personal aspiration. Her commitment to it is apparent from the outset; she is like
a mother with a new baby, cherishing each detail of her creation. So many self-published writers share these characteristics
that it would be worse than unkind to belittle their efforts. If only there were more small publishing firms that did justice
to the work of their authors. One can't help wondering why proof-reading always seems to come at the bottom of the list of
priorities. In that respect, Dorrance Publishing is no better or worse than most of its peers.
As books go, this is something out of the ordinary -- a love story, written by an American, that looks beyond
the USA. Perhaps Helen Faye lost her nerve at this point, selecting an Englishman as the exotic leading man. Okay, so the
UK and USA, despite the ability to telecommunicate instantly (and Beloved Brit is set way back in the 1960s), remain
two nations divided by a common language; but are the British really so strange that a romance between a Yank and an Englishman
is liable to fall foul of cultural differences? Or did the author simply feel that a love affair with a Finn or a Filipino
would be beyond the pale?
For a British person (or a "Brit", as Helen Faye would call us), there is something very intriguing about
the idea of seeing ourselves as other nations see us. This is true whether you're English, Scots, Irish or Welsh, and I don't
doubt it is true for most other nationalities, with the possible exception of US citizens. So a book which deals with a cross-cultural
love affair is bound to arouse our interest. Apart from the initial concept, the idea that the differences between Americans
and Brits might be sufficient to create an insurmountable barrier is intriguing. In my experience, marriages between our two
races tend to be very successful.
Edward, the hero of this tale, is the stereotypical RAF officer (all RAF officers being pilots, naturally).
I half-expected him to come out with Pythonesque "super-whizz-bang" dialogue, but his nationality is indicated merely by the
use of such unusual expressions as "UK" and "nipper". More research might have helped here -- Edward says "garbage" instead
of "rubbish", "come by" instead of "come round", and "sweetie" instead of "darling", all usages of a long-standing US resident.
He talks rather like Data in Star Trek: the Next Generation, his speeches being an odd mixture of the formal and informal,
as is most of the dialogue and indeed the narrative. The reason for this would appear to be nervousness and inexperience on
the author's part.
The children, or "nippers" if you prefer, are another problem. They resemble real kids (even allowing for
their nationality) only in their tendency to intrude into Fayette's life. Despite her avowed devotion to them, she shows little
real interest in them. She doesn't even stay in the room while they are opening their Christmas presents. She goes to work
and leaves them alone in the house all day -- the eldest is eleven. In Britain, she would be in danger of prosecution. In
the latter part of the book, they disappear altogether, as real children are wont to do, and perhaps that is all to the good.
It's a shame to have to quibble about these flaws, but, putting them all together, they can't avoid impairing
Beloved Brit's success as a novel. It's easy to tell how much of the author's heart and soul have gone into this piece
of work, and you can feel the emotion behind the narrative even if you can't read it on the page. There is nothing
striking in the selection of words, there is not much that is memorable about the characters, and, most importantly, there
is so little in the way of plot that it would have been difficult to stretch it into a short story, let alone a novel. The
best part is the sequence immediately before Edward leaves, when the narrative suddenly seems to catch alight, as though the
author became wrapped up in it and let herself go. After that, it trails off into the long catalogue of Fayette's (mostly
self-inflicted) misfortunes, making the conclusion a disappointment, to say the least.
Where the book may score is in its novelty value. Brits will be fascinated, and probably also puzzled, by the possibility
of being represented as aliens. If one saw this on a bookshelf, and the price was right, one might be tempted to buy it out
of sheer curiosity. On a library's shelves, it will certainly attract the attention of the host of ex-pats of both nationalities
who relish the opportunity to see themselves in a new light.