Conjugal Rites returns to the magic that was Never The Bride. It is brimming with the magical enchantments that Paul Magrs managed to evoke with the fConjugal Rites returns to the magic that was Never The Bride. It is brimming with the magical enchantments that Paul Magrs managed to evoke with the first book that seemed to drop off the radar in Something Borrowed. But here, we have Paul Magrs at his best.
Conjugal Rites changes in a similar way from Something Borrowed that Something Borrowed changed from Never The Bride. Insofar, that no longer are we privy to just Brenda's narration of events. Paul Magrs makes the clever (and perhaps for the better) choice of giving the reader an omniscient narrator. One that is actively (and sometimes mockingly) acknowledging what various characters are thinking or how they actually intend things.
For Effie, especially, I think as a character, she becomes more sympathetic than just a bitter old crank with an affection for Brenda. Whether this is because for a good chunk of the novel, Brenda is locked in Hell and Effie has to learn to survive without her, is a question I still haven't answered, but am leaning more to a difference in narrators that we see a sweeter Effie. She is still an old, cranky busybody, but we see her from a more objective view, where no longer is Brenda trying to excuse Effie's behaviour or shade how we see Effie.
It's a very subtle difference, but I quite like seeing Effie from another angle.
Brenda, on the other hand, I think, stays more or less the same Brenda that the past two books, through Brenda's voice, have let us see. Which says a lot of Brenda's view of herself and, I think, gives the reader something to think about in regards to whether or not Brenda herself was an unreliable narrator. It's a meta-textual change that I am not actually surprised came from Paul Magrs, whether consciously or not, as his toying with the meta-text is perhaps one of my favourite things about his writing. Here, with Iris Wildthyme, or in the few other one-off stories I've managed to get my hands on. (Exchange is a brilliant piece of YA Fiction, and would highly recommend you pick it up. If you need to find somewhere to start with Paul Magrs' masterful talent)
If there is one thing I commend Conjugal Rites for above all else, it is that we get to come intimately involved with the characters we've been following for two books. For Brenda, we meet Frank and both understand and question why she has been running for so long. For Effie, we finally get to meet Aunt Maud, and we learn about her connection to Mrs. Claus. As well, she becomes the main protagonist for a chunk of the book, and it is nice to see her in the limelight. For Robert-- a character I have been slowly loving more and more the further I've gotten in the series-- we actually get to have a reunion between him and his Aunt Jessie and get a taste of why he loves Brenda and Effie so much. And Sheila Manchu, who we're led to believe is just a subservient, fearful, inexperienced woman evolves quite quickly into someone we can actually understand and have compassion for, as she meets MuMu in Hell.
I think the backdrop of Hell that Paul Magrs draws works as a much better piece of character development than Henry Cleavis did in Something Borrowed because it is not just a convenient plot tool that vanishes at the end. Hell is the whole reason that Brenda and Effie are where they are, and it makes sense that even as a plot tool, a force as powerful as Hell could never just be something that the characters take in their stride. It actively effects them, and it actively effects the reader; you can't just walk into Hell and not expect to find something out about yourself from a dead spirit. Just as you can't expect characters to walk into Hell and not learn something about them from a dead spirit.
And while some writers would take advantage of Hell to torture the characters-- to make them feel guilty and to feel they have betrayed who they are-- we have Brenda, Effie, Robert, and Sheila seduced and come to an understanding of exactly what they want, and how they are going to get it.
I think, were I to say something about Conjugal Rites that was not an outright rave, it would be that personally, I felt that Frank was introduced much too early in the novel. I understand that everything after it hinged on Frank's appearance, but there is an uneasy feeling in me that wishes the scene with Mrs. Claus and Frank had not been available for us to see (as it wouldn't have been in the previous first-person narrative novels). There is just a feeling of "CONVENIENT PLOT POINT C" for a good 150 pages.
But otherwise, just like Never The Bride-- And I can't say this enough: I have never been this captivated by a series ever; this is one of the most enchanting books I have ever had the fortune to read.
I started re-reading Paul Magrs' Brenda and Effie series, just because I think the series is perhaps the most enchanting, magical series of books I haI started re-reading Paul Magrs' Brenda and Effie series, just because I think the series is perhaps the most enchanting, magical series of books I have ever read. They capture an action and intrigue that are unparalleled in much more serious books, with a wonderfully complex emotional bond that you just don't manage to evoke so easily in literature. All while wrapped in a silly, light, fluffy aura of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, irony, and satire.
Brenda, as narrator of the book, has a unique voice that tells you what you need to know without giving away everything, yet still fulfilling enough so you can understand. I think this is where Paul Magrs exceeds, not just in crafting a fun, interesting, and unique setting, story, and characters, but in giving us Brenda's voice, and her's only. Because she is different from a normal human-- such as Effie-- and she says and notices things you wouldn't expect; and there are a lot of years of experience behind her that you can feel long before she begins hinting at it.
The setting is in Whitby, North Yorkshire (What is that I hear you say? Dracula?), and the whole town is one giant fairground of outrageous and silly people. You have Mrs. Claus, the mysterious, conniving proprietor of the fancy Christmas Hotel who is drugging her elves into working for her; Shiela Manchu, the proprietor of the skanky Miramar Hotel; there is Jessie, the elegant elf at the Christmas Hotel, later, not so much; there is Robert, Jessie's nephew, a sympathetic ear; and then there is Effie.
Wonderful, fallible, bitter, judgemental Effie. Descended from a line of dusty, spinster witches, in a dusty old house filled with unread and untouched-for-centuries tomes of all kinds, who would much rather gossip, eavesdrop, and pass judgement than take up her forbearer's mantel. With a hint of unspoken emotional passion that has isolated her from her aunts.
And you have this absolutely zaney (and wonderful) inter-textual mythology actually entwined into the novel-- various horror and mystery movies, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula; but also other Paul Magrs creations such as MIAOW.
There is definitely something magical about this book, that I just did not want to ever put it down. I managed to on occasion, but in the end, I read the last half of the book in one sitting because I was amused, excited, and all around enchanted by how safe and daring (a paradox that I very rarely come across) the book was. And how well it all came together, carefully building up in a way I haven't personally seen in a while. I quite enjoy how the 'sub-plots' are not toned down for the story arc.
And in that way, I think, Paul Magrs manages to captivate a very unique television structure within the novel format. Not just in the style of four short-stories, but his dialogue which flows so well off the page and is so authentic and idiosyncratic to his characters, that you really can see the story play out in real-time in your mind (at least, I can.)
On the other hand, the following book, Something Borrowed, feels much more like a movie than a TV monster-of-the-week and mytharc serial.
At times touching, at times funny, and at times heartbreaking; Katy Manning's tour-de-force half-drama, half-audiobook is a stellar story about a womaAt times touching, at times funny, and at times heartbreaking; Katy Manning's tour-de-force half-drama, half-audiobook is a stellar story about a woman named Pansy who sees the world just a little bit differently than everyone else. Her worldview is tinted by what she can - or cannot - see of the world in front of her: a world of soft edges and blurred lines. And through it all, Pansy smiles through violence, self-destruction, and danger.
I must say, being a fan of Katy Manning's acting, this was bound to end up on my must-listen to list. I just wasn't expecting this. It's dark and pessimistic, but funny, light, and fun, all intermingled in an hour and ten minutes. Coming out of "Not A Well Woman" I not only felt like I had known Pansy for years, but that I understood just how she worked. And it was heartbreaking.
And the premise is so wonderful; seeing the world from the eyes of an almost-blind woman who loves life, even if she ends up introducing herself to shrubs. Twice. But it's not just about her sight, it's about her. It's about how she deals with her sight. How she lives her life to the fullest, always looking for more.
I know part of this was autobiographical. And you can tell. There is something special, something unique, about Katy's story, and you just know that it's based in truth. Based in reality. And that makes it even more hard to deal with the story. Some of the darker things that happen, some of the most deep and harrowing, just hit you. They play to all your emotions and gets right into your (metaphorical) soul.
It's beautiful. It's harrowing. It's inspiring. It's agonizing. It's not just something special, it's something unique. I would recommend this to anyone and everyone, whether you're a fan of audio or not. This needs to be out there. This needs to not just apply to a niche of a niche of a niche market, because it's up there with the best pieces of theatre and literature of the decade (and century, arguably)....more