Manga-ka: Kaoru Mori
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: July 2008
Synopsis: “From the acclaimed author of Emma, this collection of short stories presents further exploration into the stratified world of English society, portrayed through the experiences of young maids. Miss Bennett lives alone and keeps busy running the pub she inherited. Needing some help, she posts a notice for a maid. Along comes Shirley, a girl who can clean and cook as well as any maid – even if she’s only 13 years old!”
After a long day’s work, Miss Bennett returns home only to find a quiet young girl waiting patiently on her doorstep. In her hand she has the ad that Miss Bennett has placed in the paper only recently, an ad seeking a healthy young girl to be hired as a live in maid. Though her patience is admirable, the young girl is just that, very young. But faith is rewarded as Miss Bennett takes in the thirteen year old and gains both a dedicated maid and kind company.
What aids Shirley considerably is the charm of its title character. She’s young and polite, and though calm and responsible, she still exudes enthusiasm and honesty like a girl her age, which makes her both admirable and easily likeable. For me this a far difference from the character, Emma, from her name-titled series, whose flat personality had the intent of sophistication but resulted more in dull tedium. Shirley on the other hand I find infectiously sweet and earnestly looked forward to her happiness even in such a short story.
In pleasant combination, the woman who hires young Shirley, Miss Bennett, is very endearing in her own right. Fairly young herself, only mid-twenties, she lives alone and runs a modest café with a dedicated following. I like that she’s an independent woman who really feels like she has her own ambitions in life, even if she isn’t entirely sure what they are yet. She also gives Shirley the benefit of the doubt despite her age and soon comes to care for the girl as both as a good maid and as comforting company to have in her empty home.
The relationship between the two is very sweet, from Shirley idolizing the beauty of Miss Bennett, to Miss Bennett trying to make Shirley feel welcome there by buying her a doll (and subsequently worrying if it was too childish). I liked how the two both seemed careful not to step too far into the others bounds, both being strangers to one another, but still kindly open to growing closer.
Though their story was easily the most memorable, and the longest, the book itself is intended as a one-shot collection of short stories. Following the title story, there are two shorter tales, both following different maids. The first of the two is about a young woman named Nellie, a maid who has a short but sweet big-sister type relationship with the youngest child of her household. Following this is my preferred of the two, the story of a maid in service to an old man who has an inconveniencing fascination for pulling pranks. Unable to employ any new servants in the house, she and one other servant continue to forge through their master’s schemes.
I continue to enjoy Kaoru Mori’s artwork and their attention to old English-societal detail is both impressive and pinnacle to the feeling of the series itself. I especially love how the style is so clear and detailed without ever feeling overdone or cluttered. My qualm however, having recently read a few volumes of Emma, would be the distracting physical similarities between characters. There were several times reading Shirley when I was sure we’d suddenly crossed over into Emma-verse territory, only to find out we hadn’t; we’d just been introduced to characters who dress, speak and appear the exact same as a character in similar social settings as Kaoru Mori’s series. It was not only confusing but felt a little disappointingly lazy as well, but thankfully was a minor quip in a book that still stands very strong as a standalone.
Sadly despite the classification of volume one, Shirley is of now a one-shot book. After enjoying this volume quite a bit, I’m saddened that there isn’t more to look forward to; I would’ve loved to read more of Shirley and Miss Bennett, and found the short stories afterwards charming as well. Those who enjoyed Kaoru Mori’s Emma will likely enjoy what’s offered here as well, and even those like myself who found Emma on the dull side, may in fact find Shirley much more to their liking; it was an enjoyable read and makes for a solid, read-with-a-cup-of-tea recommendation.