Sunday, December 16, 2007


I recently finished rereading Aunt Beardie, a suspense novel written by Joseph Shearing, which I had earlier read as an adolescent many years ago.

Joseph Shearing is actually a pseudonym used by the woman born as Gabrielle Margaret Vere Campbell (she married twice, and is sometimes referred to by her second husband's surname as Gabrielle Margaret Long), who used several other pseudonyms, the most common and best known of which was Marjorie Bowen. Once popular but now almost forgotten, Bowen (as we'll call her) was a very prolific writer, who, according to one source, wrote at least 170 books, mainly historical novels, but also nonfiction works, collections of short stories, contemporary novels, and plays. Obviously, they couldn't all be good, but a surprising amount of them were, and she deserves to be better known. Insofar as she is remembered today it's primarily as an author of supernatural fiction, but this was actually only a small part of her output. There is a biographical essay on Bowen here.

She used the Joseph Shearing pseudonym for historical suspense novels which were based loosely on historical crimes or mysteries. These novels, unlike many of her others, tended to be heavy on mood and fairly light on plot. Aunt Beardie is no exception: the title character doesn't even make an appearance until the 65th page (out of 220). It's set in England and France in 1829, though political events enter only insofar as the chaos of the French Revolution and its associated wars has affected the characters' lives. (There was to be another revolution in France the following year, but there's no hint of it here.) The plot is about Jenny, an eighteen-year-old girl devoted to her aristocratic mother, who discovers that her mother is secretly meeting a strange man and becomes convinced that he is somehow a threat to her (the mother). The Aunt Beardie of the title is a childhood friend of her mother's, thought dead, who turns up unexpectedly around the time the strange man appears. When I first read it, as an adolescent (thanks to my mother, who had collected hundreds of paperback mysteries, including most of the Shearing books), I thought I knew the "solution" way before the end. And I was partly right; indeed, part of the solution is pretty obvious. But I had been partly led astray by Shearing's misdirection, and the whole truth came as a shock to me. But maybe, if you read the book, you'll be smarter than I was back then.

But the heart of the book is the intense relationship between Jenny and her mother. The mother feels closer to Jenny than to her husband or her other children, but urges her to marry quickly, so that she will escape the disaster she (the mother) obscurely feels looming over her (the mother). And Jenny is completely devoted to her mother. Though having led a sheltered life, she strikes out on her own to learn the nature of the threat to her mother, and when she does discover what it is she takes decisive action to dispel it. By the end, Jenny and her mother have almost become a single person.

The book has its faults. It takes a while to really get going. The prose is generally stolid and undistinguished, though the last line is remarkable. And the efforts to create a mood of foreboding can sometimes be a bit heavy-handed: there's a bit too much "the familiar scenery now seemed somehow ominous"-type prose for my liking. Nevertheless, it stands up well as a novel and repays rereading. It's worth tracking down.

  (0) comments

Friday, December 07, 2007


My reviews of Japanese-language manga may have conveyed the false impression that I can read Japanese easily. In fact, reading a manga thoroughly and looking up every word I don't know is still a laborious and time-consuming process for me. It's often more like work than fun, even when I enjoy the manga, although it's worth it in the end. And because it's time consuming, I'll often get distracted from one series by another that I just picked up, and neglect to go back to the first series. (I have a huge backlog of Japanese-language manga I've yet to read.) This is why, although I purchased the other two volumes of Partner (by Miho Obana) shortly after finishing the first one, I finished reading the last volume only a few days ago.

Now that I have finished the series, I'm sorry I waited so long. I highly recommend it: it's intelligent, suspenseful and moving, with visceral jolts scattered throughout. I can't say much about the plot of the last two volumes without spoiling the first, but I'll just say that things get a lot worse for the protagonists before they start to get better. The series probably fits the horror category best, but horror in the sense of "a series of creepy or menacing things happening" rather than "tons of gore" (of which there is very little). It's more mature than, and superior to, Kodocha, Obana's best-known series and the only one licensed in the U.S. so far.

Unlike the first volume, there are no bonus stories in volumes two and three: the main story runs the entire length of the volumes, except for a few pages at the end of volume three in which Obana's assistants greet her readers. My first post, linked to above, contains publishing info for all three volumes. And they're part of the "Ribon Mascot Comics" line, and are labelled as such, in English, on their spines.

  (1) comments

Monday, December 03, 2007


Today, a review of a translated manga that's notable only for the thoroughness of its mediocrity: My Dearest Devil Princess, story by Makoto Matsumoto, art by Maika Netsu. The premise of My Dearest Devil Princess has some promise: it's a "magical guest" manga but with the twist that the magical guest, Maki, is a demon who will take the soul of the protagonist Keita once she has granted him three wishes. Fortunately for Keita but unfortunately for the reader, Maki turns out to be sweet, gentle and naive, exactly like the heroine of every other magical guest manga. There's a bit of originality in the character of Sheeta, an angel given to throwing her weight around who aims to "save" Keita by killing him before Maki can take his soul. But everything else about this volume is drearily familiar. And anyway, the whole thing is little more than a thinly disguised vehicle for fanservice, as Keita takes a shower, fails to grasp the necessity of wearing clothes, etc. (Her naughty bits are always covered by strands of hair, wisps of steam, and the like, so don't get your hopes up.) The art itself is generic.

It's manga like this that give the anti-manga bunch some credibility. Moreover, they're beginning to make me question whether mainstream manga is really so much more diverse than mainstream American comics. Unquestionably, manga is far more diverse than mainstream American comics -- i.e. superhero comics -- in genre and subject matter. My impression, though, is that contemporary superhero comics are less likely to copy other series as blatantly as My Dearest Devil Princess -- and many other manga -- do. (This impression comes solely from reading reviews of contemporary superhero comics, rather than the comics themselves, so I could be mistaken. And of course it's far from being true historically.)

  (0) comments

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?