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.