- 20 November 2008
- By Gerard Wood
Earlier this year, Paul (don’t pronounce the G) Magrs published Conjugal Rites , the third in a series of novels featuring Brenda, an elderly and very capable lady who runs a Bed and Breakfast in the English seaside town of Whitby. No ordinary town, Whitby is dogged by the mysterious, the horrific and the downright weird, and although Brenda had looked forward to a peaceful retirement, she can't help but get involved.Along with her prim and proper friend Effie (proprietress of a junk shop, and last of a long line of witches), the two investigate the strange happenings like a blue-rinse Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. A peaceful retirement is the last thing coming Brenda's way: she is what she is and what she is is ... well, I'll keep schtum on that in case you haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting her.
Still, it's not giving too much away to say that the premise of Magrs' series is a somewhat irreverent take on the classics of genre fiction from horror to science fiction. Alongside the very normal populace, characters from these classics live their life, and of course their history is part of the history of Magrs' alternate England; so it is, for instance, that the Martian Invasion of H.G. Well's War of the Worlds is a fact of the past.
Having given that away, you could well deduce who, or what, Brenda is from the title of the first novel in the series, Never the Bride (2006)...
In an interview last year with UK SF Book News, Magrs explained that Brenda "began as a short story on Radio 4, almost ten years ago. The producer was creating a series of stories in which background characters from old novels got the chance to tell their own stories. That was how her voice began... and she re-emerged years later, demanding a whole novel. Now it's coming full circle and the same radio producer is working on a series of new radio adventures for Brenda and Effie."
The Brenda novels are very loosely gothic horror blended with comedy, a blend that few authors carry off well. The chief danger is the risk of high camp. Giving us the adventures of two busy old ladies (one of whom has on occasion been mistaken for a transsexual) the result does indeed teeter on the edge, but Magrs somehow achieves a balance and succeeds in entertaining us with his inventiveness and wit. A Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, it's really not surprising that Magrs' novels are littered with literary references.
Not unlike Jasper Fforde's superb Thursday Next novels.
In fact, you might be forgiven for thinking that Magrs' series owes more than a little to Fforde, what with characters taken from literature coexisting with the "normal" populace, a female protagonist, a comic approach, not to mention a top secret organisation - the Ministry for Incursions and Ontological Wonders (MIAOW) - tasked with keeping a lid on all these strange happenings. Even so, Magrs has carved out a unique niche and the point of my observation about Fforde is merely to suggest that readers of Fforde's novels will probably delight in Magrs'. It's worth emphasising that within the world he imagines, Magrs' characters have not escaped from works of fiction as they have in Fforde's work, but are as "real" as anyone else.
Now to confess. I've not read Conjugal Rites (2008) or Something Borrowed (2007), having only belatedly come across Never the Bride (2006), but as an indication of my enthusiasm for Magrs' creation, Something Borrowed is in the mail as I write!
If you're a fan of Dr Who, you may know Paul Magrs from his numerous Dr Who novels, radio plays and short stories, written, as you might expect, with an unmistakably irreverent tone.
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