By Jane Fraser
Before Rosamund Pilcher went “mainstream,” she got her start writing romances for Mills and Boon (or Harlequin) under the name of Jane Fraser. In Young Bar, we do not have a typical Harlequin romance. Although certainly, this book does not have the polish and depth that her later books have, her talent shines through in her descriptions and character development. Unfortunately, the characters in this book are not developed to be very likable.
There is not much to this one plot-wise. We have Barbara Lonsdale, a fairly nice girl but spoiled and idle, though with a lively personality. She is still living with her father with no plans or goals, on a naval base In the Indian Ocean, presumably waiting for her Prince Charming to appear and marry her. Enter Commander Steven Connelly who has just been assigned to the Island. They strike sparks off of each other, and the plot consists of them gradually falling in love with each other after the initial antagonism. Her twin brother, visiting from Oxford, is like his father, selfish and with a bit of a mean streak. It is never addressed why Bar is not also in school or training for some kind of profession. Matters are complicated by the father, who has been vacationing in Ceylon, bringing home a new wife and young step-daughter who coincidentally were acquainted with Steven in England. The new wife, who isn’t a bad person, but snobby and critical of young Bar, has her eye on Steven, who is about 35, for her daughter Millie who is even younger than Bar, who is about 20. The age gap is very typical of a Rosamunde Pilcher, but this one stretches credulity even more than her later books.
It is rather like an old-timey regency romance without the regency. The marriage of the young heroine is what everything pivots on. The exotic island’s culture and social scene take center stage along with the domestic drama and developing relationships. The native islanders who are the servants are treated with the unconscious racism and disdain typical of the 1960s by both Rosamunde and her creations. In one scene, Bar and Chris, her brother, get a morning visit from a family friend. She kindly offers to get him some breakfast. This consists of her walking through the bungalow and calling out “Gordon Master’s breakfast.” “He’s waiting now.” and going back to the table and pouring herself a cup of tea. (Which she actually pours for herself!) This demonstrates the culture and the idleness of Bar’s life, which is not seen as a character defect that needs to be improved. These are middle-class civil servants in the 1960s not the nobility of 1760! It is really a slice of life in a different world, not that far in the past. It was interesting and even had a certain charm as long as I could suspend my more enlightened sensibilities.
It is mighty dull in places, but her deft characterizations and little plot threads kept me reading with interest. There were even a few times I was not sure where it was going. By the end, young Bar matures a little, learns a lesson or two, but does not essentially change much from the not too admirable girl we were introduced to in the beginning.**3 stars out of 5**
June 10, 2019