Newest Review: ... Betsy was adopted by Lord and Lady Tallimore. After Lady Frances Tallimore's death, the school began to fall into disrepair. It's cou... more
"I'm not exactly an expert on finishing schools am I?"...
The Finishing Touches - Hester Browne
Member Name: Hamilton-the-2nd
The Finishing Touches - Hester Browne
Date: 09/06/10, updated on 11/07/10 (40 review reads)
Advantages: Great plot, fun characters, intriguing, just rather adorable.
Disadvantages: It is chick lit, you may want something heavier. Easy to be disappointed if you prefer 1 of the men
There's nothing like a bit of escapism from your sad sad life. You could drink a glass of tesco value orange juice from concentrate, watch a romantic comedy or, if you want to stretch it out a bit, read a romantic comedy. If you were me. The humble pink trash novel is the cheapest product on offer for this kind of escapism, and is easily available from tesco, helpfully. I recommend The Finishing Touches by Hester Brown as chick literature at its best. Despite its being a bit too well-written to qualify as escapist pink "trash", it is pink, and it is escapist, therefore it's well worth buying.
Finishing Touches tells the story of Betsy, whose rather romantic adoption as a baby by the owner of a Finishing School in London leads her to all kinds of adventure. In 1980, she was discovered on the school's steps in a marmalade box with the note: 'Please look after my baby. I want her to grow up to be a proper lady. Thank you.' Lady Frances Tallimore, the school's headmistress, was absolutely smitten, and in the present day, Betsy has grown up to love 'Franny' as her mother, and the Tallimore Academy as her home. The story really begins with Franny's death: who will look after the nearly bankrupt school and its four impossible pupils now that the perfect Lady Tallimore has passed away? Will Betsy ever be able to persuade the staff that the curriculum needs updating in order to get twenty-first century girls to stand on their own two feet? And will Betsy ever discover who her real mother was?
The story is an original one for the pink trash genre, and it's a difficult one to tell, because those of us who are inclined to hate anything approaching private education even, are unlikely to sympathise with those trying to save the last finishing school in London. However, because the main character wasn't 'finished' herself, and is therefore simply an ordinary young woman with surprisingly good manners and a maths degree, the reader does immediately love her, especially because of her many endearing characteristics and the challenges with which she is presented. The poshness is satirised and the old-fashioned lessons like 'table arrangements' are ridiculed, so that the reader finds the whole thing rather quaint, in a good way.
The rest of the characters are also interesting ones, especially due to the air of mystery surrounding many of them. What is the tarty pupil Venetia getting up to in her private lessons with manipulative Adele Buchanan? Is Betsy's childhood crush Jamie a changed man, or is he still a player with something to hide? Is Mark, the academy's bursar, a nice man deep down? Is Betsy's adopted father, Lord Tallimore, already over his wife? Which pupil in the class of 1980 could Betsy's mother possibly be? It's unusual to find such a collection of mysterious characters in pink trash, and even more unusual to have a plot line that isn't entirely predictable. The reader really doesn't know whether Betsy is going to end up with: her best friend's flirty brother, Jamie, or with awkward yet increasingly handsome Mark. Until the end, we're still unsure, because both men seem really rather nice, and that's got to be a good point.
This is how Browne keeps the plot interesting, and you won't feel yourself skimming over the boring bits, because there really aren't many! You want her to succeed, and every scene brings a new challenge, from inventing new lessons to help modern women cope with every situation, to stopping Adele from winding Lord Tallimore around her finger. You feel for her, and you really want her to end up with the right man, find her family, and save the school from ruin.
An aspect of the book which I must congratulate is the way it is interspersed with Finishing School secrets. It sort of encapsulates the whole novel. Every chapter begins with a tip that Betsy has learnt over her life in the Academy and from her mother, mainly.
'Find your stopcock and your fusebox and tape the number of your nearest plumber and electrician to them before you have an emergency.'
'Never ask a man his starsign, salary or his age.'
'Everyone should have one fabulous karaoke song; practise it so you can belt it out on demand, then retire modestly.'
'Never trust a man with a ready-made bow tie.'
And the book itself is stuffed full of Betsy's ladylike lists: the BLT check - buttons, lipstick, teeth; the handshake test - three firm shakes and good eye contact; and the posture check - head up, shoulders back, chest out. You feel well advised by the end, and determined to improve the manners of all around you! I think that's quite funny, but I can see that some people might find it trivial and slightly annoying, so be prepared!
I think that this book is perfect in terms of romantic escapism, but there are problems with it. The 'filling in the gaps' that the school intends to provide for its pupils is very much something that parents ought to do for their children, and occasionally, you don't really sympathise with the school's aims therefore, since spending extortionate amounts of money per term to learn how to walk in high heels and how to introduce yourself, etc. seems a little excessive. The other problem is that the men of the book are really a sub-plot, and because the author keeps us in suspense about which man Betsy will end up with, the reader is bound to be disappointed at the end, since they'll like both tremendously!
These are two minor problems, but it is refreshing to find a book which will include those aspects, and I think Hester Browne very brave because of it. In fact, this book is well written, and it flows remarkably well, with an intriguing plot and sympathetic characterisation. We love everybody, and we want them to end happily, and overcome every obstacle in their path. It makes for a stunningly cheerful book, therefore, and very enjoyable to read. You can't really go wrong with it, unless you're one of these people who don't particularly like happy books and would prefer the book to be about how dreadful Betsy's childhood was, and the ensuing identity crisis of her adulthood. You know the books I mean, they're on sale at the front of Smith's. Buy this book instead - it's better; don't be fooled by the happy ending and don't be a literature snob! It will help you get to sleep at night, in the best possible way.
Summary: What to buy if you want a NICE book, like ordinary people.