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Pam Decides

September 4, 2012

I read Pam Decides, the sequel to Pam, on Sunday. A note at the beginning suggests that Pam was never intended to have a sequel, but I occasionally felt, as I read Pam Decides, that Pam existed for no other reason than to provide an excuse for one. Which isn’t true, but tells you a little bit about how I feel about both. I still like Pam, a lot, which is to say that I still find it frustrating and delightful and moving and difficult to describe. But my thoughts and feelings about Pam Decides are a little different.

When we last saw Pamela Yeoland, she had just been left penniless, homeless and friendless by the death of her grandfather. Her loving but neglectful parents were abroad somewhere. James Peele had proposed that Pam become his mistress after he married her cousin Henrietta, causing her to lose all respect for him. Eight years later, Pam’s 27th birthday finds her living in a boarding house in London with Jane Pilgrim, her old nurse, and making a scant living by writing romance novels.

Pam reconnects with Henrietta’s  mother, the Duchess, after receiving a letter from her, and the Duchess sort of comes to take the place of Lord Yeoland as a friend to Pam. There’s little overarching structure to the plot; von Hutten has a way of throwing stuff at Pam that’s all the more realistic for its lack of obvious purpose. So here’s some stuff that happens: Pam’s cousin De Rattrec “Ratty” Maxse chases her across London in a sequence that’s almost slapstick, her (other) former suitor Charnley Burke dies and leaves her an incredibly delightful house, she meets and forms a close friendship with a Polish diplomat named Jean de Lensky, she adopts a baby, and, inevitably, James Peele reappears in Pam’s life. Well, no wonder. He’s one of her best friends’ son-in-law.

So. Things I loved about this book:

Pam. She’s such a credible character, and such a credible adult.There are ways in which she’s incredibly strong and empowered and good at setting boundaries, and there are ways in which she isn’t and doesn’t know what do do about things, and asks for help when she shouldn’t and doesn’t ask for help when she should.

The way characters drift in and out. The people who are important during one section of the two years the book covers aren’t necessarily the people who are important during other sections. Lensky is around for quite a while before he even speaks to Pam. The Penge family, some of Pam’s closest friends at the end of the book, don’t even appear until maybe three quarters of the way in.

Jack Lensky. I just. I can’t even.

The Duchess being all supportive and caring and saying the right things at the right times.

The Duchess’ grandson.

The house. It is the best house. It has three front doors and rolls of valuable lace stuffed into vases and stuff. I want the house.

Things I didn’t love:

I don’t really see the point of the baby.

Cyril Wantage, who breaks into Pam’s house (formerly his house) to steal some of his stuff back. Pam ends up becoming responsible for him and his wife, and while I sort of like what they — and Pam’s actions regarding them — bring to the story, Cyril is just so useless and I find him pretty irritating.

Things that just are:

Everything connected to James Peele. There’s no way of explaining this without giving away what happens, but it was all so interesting — seeing how he’s changed over the course of eight years, and knowing that he’s unworthy, and fearing that Pam will fall into his arms anyway. And she does, and it’s super uncomfortable. And then…what happens is simultaneously expected and a shock.

I don’t know how well this book would have worked for me if I hadn’t read Pam first. There’s a summary of Pam in the front of the book, but it doesn’t tell you much you couldn’t figure out from the text, and there’s so much in Pam that can’t be fully explained by passing references. But this is one of the stronger sequels I’ve read exactly because it moves on from the book that precedes it. By the time you get to Pam Decides, you’ve already been through Pam. You’ve gained a very clear understanding of what her childhood was like, and you’ve mentally calculated the ratio of happy marriages to unhappy ones and you’ve gotten your hopes up for James Peele and been disappointed by him right along with Pam. And now that’s all over, and Bettina von Hutten doesn’t feel the need to keep rehashing the same issues.

Pam is an interesting and frequently enjoyable novel in it’s own right, but in relation to its sequel, it’s like a prerequisite course in college: having been through it, you get to jump straight into the good stuff with the next thing. And it might just be because Pam Decides feels at times as if it was written specifically for me, but I really do think it’s the good stuff. I kind of want to sit right back down and read it again.

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