Devil Within by Catherine George (1984)

Book review: Devil Within by Catherine George (Mills & Boon, 1992 [1984])

Book coverWhy was Saul Treharne so cold and hostile towards her? Claudia wondered ruefully. After all, he had needed a governess for his little girl, it was not everyone who would be willing to go off to the wilds of Brazil for the purpose – and even Saul must admit that Claudia was doing a good job. So why did he absolutely refuse to believe anything good of her? Why couldn’t he see that all women were not as selfish and unprincipled as his ex-wife?

So, orphan Claudia is a school teacher who wants a new challenge. She finds an ad in a newspaper, goes for an interview and the woman who interviews her takes an instant liking to her. Claudia is hesitant, because the position is in Brazil and that’s a long way away, and what if things don’t work out? What is she to do? She has no savings to come back to or anything, so the old lady says she’ll give her some money.

In Brazil, Claudia meets the headstrong little girl she’s to governess for, and her grumpy dad, who spends most of the book being a complete arsehole. The similarities with Jane Eyre is not lost on Claudia … even though Saul Treharne doesn’t have a mad wife in the attic.

Devil Within is not a re-telling of Jane Eyre by any means. There are some similarities (see above), but there’s a great big lampshade hanging on all of them, as Claudia keeps pointing them out – and even calls Saul “Mr Rochester” to his face.

The book first came out in 1984, and MY GODS does it feel dated! First of all, because it’s quicker to talk about, fashion and fashion accessories. It’ll say how she’s getting ready, and my mind would conjure up something, only to have it adjusted soon after with the period appropriate items the author’s listing: big hoop earrings and mohair sweaters and that sort of thing. Ick. The 1980s was not a brilliant era for fashion, put it that way. I’m really glad I was born in the 1980s, because it means I don’t actually have any memories of how people used to look like back then, nor do I have any embarassing photos of myself with big shoulder pads and such.

The second thing that is so frightfully dated are the attitudes. Nowadays, Mills & Boon-readers like to read a few bits here and there from the male main character’s viewpoint. We get none of that, and I really would have liked some in order to explain Saul’s character. All he does is walk around and be either grumpy, nasty or both. For no apparent reason. It doesn’t seem like he even likes Claudia … up until the point where he’s on the verge of RAPING HER.

Because, uh, rape is ever so romantic???

No. No, it fucking isn’t.

Seriously. There’s being a masterful git, and there’s “you’re not wanting my advances, but I’m forcing them on you anyway until you submit and want me as much as I want you!” Claudia isn’t too pleased with the near-rape, but she gets over it very quickly. Normal people would’ve made sure never to be alone with the person again, and reported them to the police for attempted rape, but not Claudia. No, she falls in love with him because he’s so dreamy and super-sexy underneath that harsh exterior, and can’t wait to lose her virginity to him. (For goodness sake, it was 1984, not 1784!)

I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and shout “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, WOMAN!?” a fair few times reading this novel. Guess I’ll make sure not to read old Mills & Boon books in the future.

As a novel, aside from the above, it’s alright. The scattering of adverbs can be semi-excused by the author seeming to know Brazil very well, because the surroundings and culture and food are always very detailed. Some things said in Portuguese gets translated, other bits you can guess what’s being said, but then there are the bits that you have no idea about, but it’s luckily not too much.

From the perspective of an English governess in Brazil, it’s quite enjoyable. I just don’t understand why Saul and Claudia are supposed to fall in love, because Saul is a right prick and Claudia, well, she doesn’t seem to do much to inspire anything other than ire from her employer. The Mrs Fairfax character (Saul’s aunt) was a nice lady, though. She was probably my favourite character.

As far as similarities with Jane Eyre are concerned, it doesn’t go beyond “young and naive orphan governess and slightly older master acting like he has a chronic toothache fall in love, there’s a spoiled five-year-old, and a charming old lady in charge of the house”. The biggest hurdle Claudia and Saul have to go through to win each other is … well, nothing, let’s be honest, because all they need to do is realise that they are actually perfect for each other and there’s nothing stopping them having a Happily Ever After if only they start being nice to one another for a change. And, you know, not attempt rape.

2 out of 5 skimpy tennis skirts.

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