A mere trifle: The Botor Chaperon, CN & AM Williamson (1907)

This was a curious book, part romance and part travelogue. I did wonder at one point if it had been financed by the 1907 equivalent of the Dutch Tourist Board.

Nell van Buren is an American of Dutch extraction living in London with her English stepsister Phyllis Rivers. An unexpected windfall in the form of an inheritance of £200 and a motorboat berthed in the Netherlands kicks off the action, and she determines to go for a cruise on the waterways in it. There she discovers the boat has been illicitly hired to an American, Ronald Lester Starr who is nevertheless keen to go with them. Providentially he is able to offer the services of his aunt, a middle aged Scottish lady of unimpeachable respectability as chaperon. The party is then joined by Nell’s Dutch cousin, Robert van Buren and his friend Rudolph Brederode, who acts as skipper. Eagle eyed readers will note that while there appear to be two heroines, there are three possible heroes, and much of the plot of the novel is taken up with working out who will end up with whom. Needless to say it all ends satisfactorily with a nice little twist that I didn’t see coming.

Each of the five principals has a narrative, written in the first person, and this enables us to see the depths of duplicity some of them will stoop to in order to achieve their ends. The novel is competently written, with fairly good characterisation, although it took me a long time to distinguish Robert van Buren and Brederode.

Sadly however, I got about half way through the book and put it to one side for several months before finishing it last week. The authors have let themselves get carried away with scenic descriptions at the expense of plot, and I did find the middle part pretty tedious. It picked up again later on and was quite funny in places, but overall I did not find it a great read.


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