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A Simple Thing: A Novel

A Simple Thing - Kathleen McCleary This book was a lot funnier and more substantial than I expected. Karen sent it to me in thanks for two science fiction books I sent her ( Blood Music and Traitor to the Living), which she thoroughly enjoyed read. Here's what it looks like:I love that note at the bottom assuring us this is the complete and unabridged version. Good to know, I guess, although it actually never would have occurred to me that Cabbage Holiday might just be a thumbnail sketch of a richer, more complex epic whose uncondensed form is too unwieldy for casual reading.This is the first romance novel I’ve read, and I must admit: it is not what I expected. Well, what did I expect? … I expected a chance meeting between a two eligible singles, followed by a dance of courtship with stolen glances, etc. Maybe some peripheral characters would try to either push them together, or perhaps obstruct their affair. A minor misunderstanding or circumstance might upset them along the way, but it would be overcome to achieve a successful romantic pairing in the final scene. I will admit: I thought this was the plot of every romance novel ever written, which made me wonder how anybody can read more than one or two before getting completely bored. Well, live and learn, because that’s not this book. Cabbage Holiday features a woman with two possible suitors, and neither one looks very good. You spend your time hoping she doesn’t end up with either one. And she doesn’t. The story shifts to our protagonist helping some other character find love. It’s kind of a bait-and-switch I guess, but I just enjoyed that it wasn’t predictable. I honestly didn’t see this ending coming. (TWSS) Rookie mistake? Danielle the Book Huntress and others are probably rolling their eyes at me right now, saying “Oh, he fell for that old one?” I did this time!The setup is very quirky and captivating. Main character Madame Fifine Faquet is the widow of an uninsured circus acrobat (!!!) who was killed…. wait for it… when a car clipped him as he stood streetside, waiting for a bus. To support herself, Fifine becomes the madame of a Parisian brothel. Not a lot of detail on why she picked this career; just accept it. This seems like a daring choice for 1948, the mid 20th century works of Anaïs Nin and others notwithstanding. Fifine is quite successful, and has the leisure time to loll about the brothel, chatting up the working girls as they gossip in the staff lounge (the break room? whatever it’s called in a brothel) between clients. What do you think they talk about? That’s right: how much fun it would be to have chronically poor health. You see, then doctors would order you to the countryside, where you could enjoy the pastoral beauty of rural France, you could breathe fresh air all the time, and perhaps enjoy food much fresher and more tasteful than what is eaten in the city. Color me astounded! I would have never have guessed that prostitutes fantasize about the delights of poor health, but I suppose this is an excellent example of setting attainable goals for oneself. At any rate, the plot progresses when Fifine learns about an exciting new doctor in town… not the boring kind who just diagnoses common diseases everybody has heard of, but an exciting doctor, like the rich have: one who asks unusual questions and makes exotic diagnoses to astonish your friends with. Dr. Marmotte, we’re told, is “not the sort of man to remove your appendix, when you have already told all your friends you were to have your gallbladder out”.