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Charity Child by Sara Seale

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First published in 1959, this is a deliciously vintage, classic Mills & Boon where once again the Other Woman is by far the most entertaining character.

Charity Child – yes, that’s her actual name – comes to work for a former opera singer, Astrea, who is now an astrology-obsessed old lady who keeps taking a fancy to various “spiritual daughters” and making wills in favour of them. Astrea’ barrister nephew,

Charity is 19 turning 20 and Marc is 30, but she’s already independent and working to support herself, so this is isn’t one of Seale’s more borderline works, though we do get the questionable: “her slender body seemed to shrink into the semblance of a child’s”. Either way, Charity is still eye-rollingly inexperienced with men, and if you want to have a bit of a cringe, on the last page Marc eyes:

“…the innocent, generous promise of the young, untutored mouth.”

Their romance is not very convincing. Marc is so viciously nasty to her at the start, then even after his apology he keeps being mocking and supercilious. He lets the Other Woman torment her, and then falls for all the Other Woman’s lies about her. When Charity asks if he is still involved with Roma – with good reason, having seen them apparently embracing, only for Roma to have snapped and demanded privacy while Marc stands “unembarrassed, and his faint smile was a little mocking” – Marc’s reply is:

“There’s an adage that says ‘never apologise, never explain’. It’s worth following, I think.”

WHY?!! He’s just spent the previous hour holding Charity and talking about “seeds of great liking” between them, and next minute he’s back to being “enigmatic” (or frankly a complete prick).

Also, what’s the deal with Sara Seale’s heroes always having really long noses? Long and pointy in Marc’s case.

Charity Child is worth reading for the scenes with Roma alone. She’s a glorious villainess, implausibly awful and selfish and scheming yet transparent, but she’s very diverting. One starts to wonder whether these romance novels might be considerably more interesting if the scheming vamp did get to end with the hero rather than the wet-as-milk heroines.

I also enjoyed the elderly opera singer, a poignant picture of a long-faded star, and her prickly but loyal servant/dresser.