Monday, July 30, 2012

Susan Pulls the Strings

This weekend I re-read Susan Pulls the Strings. It is an interesting story because it is the first in the series and also quite different from all the others that came after it. Several of the Jane Shaw hallmarks are there, such as the coincidences, unlikely crook and Charlotte's impulses, but if you look closely you see that there are some aspects that would never resurface in the later books. First of all, the usually active Susan spends a good part of the story laid up with a chill. There is also a slightly darker side to her. The Susan of the subsequent books would never pull Aunt Lucy into a freezing pond and try to make her ill. Midge is a lot more active. Although there are references to her laziness and how she loves to sleep late, she is on the move a lot more and doesn't keep complaining every time she is asked to do something that involves more than lifting a finger. Aunt Lucy is portrayed as more of an oddball. Like Charlotte, she too has her sudden urges and enthusiasms, but that would be greatly toned down as the series progressed. She would go on to be merely naive in the next few books, unable to understand her charges' dislike of the talented and gifted Gascoignes. By the end of the series, even that trait in her character would disappear and she would just become like everyone's favourite aunt. The story is also different because there is less madcap banter and slapstick comedy. As the 1950s drew to a close, Jane Shaw's editor at Collins would note that her characters were becoming more caricatured. She worked hard to bring this under control, but Susan became more of a busybody, Midge became lazier and the Gascoignes became ghastlier. A possible reason for this is that at Collins she no longer had the editorial advice of Jocelyn Oliver. When he moved to Nelson, Jane Shaw wrote the Penny series for him. There is a marked difference between the slapstick style of the Susan books and the light humour of the Penny series. But whatever the reason for its being different, Susan Pulls the Strings is a unique reading experience.

Jane Shaw Quiz 71

In the Susan series, who is Miss Bracken?

The answer to Quiz 70: Selina Gascoigne marries artist Sam Pilkington, assuming the ridiculous double-barrelled name of Selina Gascoigne-Pilkington.

Quote of the Day

"No, Aunt Lucy," said Susan, "I was lying bound and gagged next door."
"And as for you. Charlotte," went on Aunt Lucy, "I ask you to set the table and you just calmly go off in the middle - what did you say, Susan?"
"I said," said Susan, "that I was lying bound and gagged in the empty house next door."
Aunt Lucy burst out, "Now look here, Susan, I might as well tell you here and now that these stories have got to stop. Nobody thinks it's funny, nobody thinks it's clever, nobody-"
"Aunt Lucy," Charlotte interrupted before Aunt Lucy could work herself up any further, "it's quite true."

From SUSAN PULLS THE STRINGS, Chapter 12, New Year Resolutions.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Buried Treasures 6

The cover of my personal favourite of all of Jane Shaw's books: A Job for Susan (1969). This scene from Chapter 2, A Job for Bill, shows the girls discovering Sir Arthur Symes, a.k.a the Wicked Baronet, a.k.a. the Bad Bart, spying on Susan's house, more specifically the room she has baptized as Bluebeard's Chamber. The artist, whose signature appears in the bottom right-hand corner, is Roger Hall, who would go on to illustrate the British editions of the Three Investigators series.

Jane Shaw Quiz 70

Which local personality does Selina Gascoigne marry in Wichwood Village?

The answer to Quiz 69: The museum that Ricky, Julie and Fay visit in Paris is the Musée Grevin, a waxworks museum.

Quote of the Day

Suddenly Susan, who had apparently been doing some mental arithmetic, said, "Bill, even if they all pay half a crown, which isn't very likely, that only comes to twelve-and-six. It'll be years before we collect enough to buy one truck far less a whole railway."
"I'm trying not to think of that," said Bill.
"But we must think of that," said Susan. "I wish we could sell the puppets for a large sum."
"Nobody in their senses would buy them for a large sum," said Bill.
"Oh, I would," said Susan.
Bill looked at her speculatively. "How much?" he said.

From SUSAN PULLS THE STRINGS, Chapter 8, The Empty House Next Door.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Willow Green Mystery illustration

A scene from Lost Boy, the sixth chapter of Willow Green Mystery. Miss Woodward loses her patience with Bella the cow, who has trampled on her prize-winning garden.

Jane Shaw Quiz 69

Which Parisian waxworks museum do the girls visit in Crooks Tour?

The answer to Quiz 68: Lynette du Toit is the new girl at Northmead who has just arrived from Africa. Despite early misgivings, she becomes friends with Nicky and Kay. 

Quote of the Day

One of the nice things about getting back to Johannesburg was that we plunged into a wild whirl of gaiety. Aunt Helen had a terrific party to meet some of our relations' friends. You never saw such a spread in your life, cold meats of all kinds and the most wonderful salads, not just a bit of lettuce and a tomato, oh no, but glorious mixtures of pineapples and celery and avocado pear and cream cheese and nuts and green peppers and red peppers and asparagus to name but a few, some of them formed into moulds. Even apart from their delicious taste, you never saw anything so pretty.

From NOTHING HAPPENED AFTER ALL, Chapter 8, Interlude in Civilisation. Once again we see Jane Shaw's mastery of long sentences that do not leave the reader feeling out of breath. One sentence in this quote has 64 words.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Adventures of a Snowman

An illustration from The Adventures of a Snowman (1954, reprinted 1959). Clarissa culminates a night of adventure by catching the poacher. Click on the picture for a much larger view.

Jane Shaw Quiz 68

In New House at Northmead, who is Lynette du Toit?

The answer to Quiz 67: When they returned to Scotland from Africa, Jane Shaw and her husband set up home on the isle of Arran.

Quote of the Day

Operation Peach went off without a hitch. As usual Belinda and Mike were awake as soon as the sun began to stream in their windows. They found a big basket in the kitchen and crept out through the yard in their pyjamas, and quickly filled the basket with big luscious ripe peaches, and secreted them in the 'stable'. Really, the only snag was that they forgot that the grass was still wet at that hour of the morning, and they were horrified to discover on returning to their rooms that the legs of their pyjamas were soaking wet.

From VENTURE TO SOUTH AFRICA, Chapter 9, Looking After Stella.

Looking After Thomas illustration

A scene from Chapter 3 of Looking After Thomas: Night Prowler. Thomas accidentally attacks David in the corridor of their Paris hotel.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jane Shaw Quiz 67

When Jane Shaw and her husband retired to Scotland, where did they set up their home?

The answer to Jane Shaw Quiz 66: the Carmichaels' maid is Joe Taylor's mother.

Quote of the Day

But Charlotte wasn't going to be mollified by any feeble little jokes, even Susan's; she was still furious. "Why should it upset him to hear that this Julian Gascoigne, whoever he may be, is your uncle?"
"Because we can check up on this bird-watcher, of course," said Gabrielle. "I don't believe he's what he says he is, I don't believe he's an ornithologist. I don't believe he has anything to do with St. Jude's at all."

From SUSAN MUDDLES THROUGH, Chapter 6, Investigating Cap'n Dan.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Crooked Sixpence illustration

A scene from Chapter 3, Fair Waved the Golden Corn: Penny and Laura help Mrs. Greenwood.

Jane Shaw Quiz 66

In the Susan books, what is the relationship between the Carmichaels' maid and Joe the policeman?

The answer to Jane Shaw Quiz 65: Miss Phillimore is the head mistress at St. Ronan's.

Quote of the Day

By tea-time it wasn't Susan that was up, but her temperature. Throughout the afternoon the family had dropped into her room at intervals to commiserate with her, and the cause of all the trouble came down and settled with her under the eiderdown when Aunt Lucy wasn't looking. Susan was very glad to see them all, but she couldn't help wishing that she was in better trim, as she put it, for vistors. Really, she felt very peculiar indeed, and in spite of two hot-water bottles, four blankets, an eiderdown and Chang, she just couldn't get warm.

From SUSAN PULLS THE STRINGS, Chapter 7, Chang Breaks the Ice.