This is subtitled ‘One woman’s romantic adventure of a lifetime’. It’s been reissued by Corazon books and I read it courtesy of NetGalley. If you look up Ursula Bloom here and read ‘Ursula Says’, you’ll find a lot of common sense. She was obviously an interesting person, who wrote over 500 books! Although I seem to have known the name forever, I can’t remember having read any of those 500 until now. Judging by my reaction to Wonder Cruise, I won’t be temped to read any more.
The book was first published in 1934. The modern edition includes a warning that people wrote differently in those days. This must mean throwaway references to ‘a Jewess’ and other terms we find distasteful and which the book is full of. As you will find similar expressions used by writers of the time such as Dorothy L Sayers, I really don’t think this health warning is necessary. Perhaps I’m assuming wrongly that all readers are familiar with inter-war novels and know what to expect.
This is a Cinderella story about a woman tempted to break out of a constricted life. Ann is thirty five, looks older and feels herself on the brink of middle age. She follows a dreary routine of going to the office, then returning each evening to grotty digs to another routine of washing one evening, ironing the next and so on. She is completely set in her ways and hampered by her upbringing. Twenty years in a vicarage with her father and then the ‘protection’ of her unpleasant clergyman brother Cuthbert have given her the kind of conscience which regards as wicked almost everything normal people enjoy. The change in her life begins when a colleague buys her a sweepstake ticket and they each win £300.00. Cuthbert wants her to invest the money safely so that it can eventually be left to his daughter. Instead, Ann uncharacteristically decides to blow the money on a Mediterranean cruise.
The real wonder of this cruise is that Ann makes it on board, because she’s frightened of almost everything and is totally wet. Previously, she had thought it wicked if a man so much as looked at her. This changes when she meets Oliver, whose outlook is so very different. Once recovered from seasickness she begins to behave in what is for her a reckless manner. She has her hair cut! Buys new clothes! Enjoys feeling attractive! This is all miraculous. Then she gets stranded in Venice when she misses the boat and a whole new adventure begins. What is clever about this book is that the reader can’t be sure whether the cruise will really result in a new Ann with a different life or whether she will be too afraid of the change, and return to her old, safe habits.
This doesn’t sound too bad, does it? What put me off was the dreadful snobbery. Much of the book is padded out with long, unnecessary and unflattering portraits of Ann’s fellow travellers, all of whom are vulgar and unpleasant. Northerners especially come in for snide abuse. Women are criticised for ‘uncultured laughter’, for goodness sake. What on earth is ‘cultured laughter’? I must practise it at once. These are not just the author’s criticisms; they are by inference Ann’s. No matter how much she may change outwardly, she remains a narrow minded little snob whom I couldn’t like.