Monday, May 1, 2017

Notes on A Job for Susan

1. A Job for Susan (1969) is the eleventh and last book in the Susan series and the last book Jane Shaw ever published. She did begin a new story, Susan in Trouble, but the manuscript was abandoned after a few tentative pages. In that story, Susan and Midge were to go to the USA.

2. A Job for Susan recycles many elements of past Susan books. Indeed, readers often confuse it with No Trouble for Susan. Both stories are set in Wichwood at Christmas time, with the children helping out a local shopkeeper in difficulty. In both stories, the ghastly Gascoignes are thankfully absent and a new nemesis steps in: Sir Arthur Symes, a.k.a. the Wicked Baronet or Bad Bart.

3. Susan is no longer living with the Carmichaels. Her parents have returned from Africa and have rented a house called Owl Cottage, not far from the Carmichael residence.

4. Tessa Marshall, Susan and Midge’s rather dim but likeable friend from St. Ronan’s, features prominently in the story. When Susan hears that Tessa’s grandmother has gone away and that Tessa will have to spend the holidays with her Aunt Rachel, who lives in deepest Devon, she invites her friend to stay with her in Wichwood.

5. At the beginning of the story, Charlotte announces yet another change in her planned career. Her dreams of becoming a nurse, cook and archaeologist having been thwarted in previous stories, in Where is Susan? Charlotte had made up her mind to become an artist. However, after studying the works of the Old Masters, she feels that she will never be very good and decides to set her sights on studying the history of art at the Courtland Institute. But when she has some success with her paintings in AJFS, she decides to be an artist again.

6. In this book, Tessa and Bill are given more prominent roles. They were hardly even mentioned in the previous two stories (Susan’s Kind Heart and Where is Susan?) but here Bill’s financial problems are the focus of the story. At school, goaded by an unpleasant teacher, Bill rashly promises to donate the massive sum of ten pounds to Oxfam and now has to spend the holidays trying to raise the money.

7. As usual, Charlotte has no shortage of admirers. Much to Susan’s surprise, one of Charlotte’s admirers takes a fancy to Tessa instead! Being a Susan story, nothing comes of this budding romance.

8. This story features the pompous artist, Tertius Smith, who creates abstracts, such as Mr. Egg.

9. Now that Susan’s mother is back, the role of Aunt Lucy is greatly diminished and she only appears when preparing meals and has apparently lost her enthusiasm for crazy new hobbies that she had early in the series.

10. There are no internal illustrations. The front cover was drawn by Roger Hall, who would become a prominent illustrator of children’s book in the 1970s.

11. There is yet another cryptic dedication at the front of the book:

Flora Cohen

In Susan and Friends, Jane Shaw’s son, Ian Evans, explains that Flora Cohen was the sister of Sylvia Klugmen, who founded the Children’s Book Shop in Johannesburg. The two sisters, Jane Shaw and another shop employee, Norah Hampton, became a “circle of loyal friends”.

12. A Job for Susan was also the title of Chapter 1 of Susan Rushes In.

Quote of the Day

She saw Bill delivering his papers at the almshouses at the foot of Gallery Road. Bill's jaw dropped open when he saw the van driving back, with Joe Taylor apparently very much in command of the situation. His mouth was still open when Susan reached him.
"You got him!" he yelled. "Spot-on!"
Susan stopped. "Well, yes, we got him," she said. "But Bill, it was Mr. Smith the artist--"
"Mr. Smith the artist!" Bill repreated blankly. "Stealing his own stuff at half-past six in the morning? He must be bonkers!"
"Well, we know he is," said Susan. "That egg! But the thing is, Bill, he wasn't stealing it at all--"
"Why in the middle of the night, then?"
"Only time he could get the van, he said--"
"Oh," said Bill. "Is he cross?"
"Not too pleased," said Susan.

From A JOB FOR SUSAN, Chapter 7, Guarding the Masterpieces. For more on "that egg", click here.