“The Marvellous Adventures of Maggie and Methuselah” by Sarah Brennan

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In the opening scene of Sarah Brennan’s The Marvellous Adventures of Maggie and Methuselah, Maggie is arguing with her mother about having to attend a “silly reception” at Government House. But her mother, an Australian lawyer at one of Hong Kong’s top firms, is determined that Maggie will go to Family Fun Day and with the chapter titled “In which Maggie and Mum clash and Mum wins (as usual)”, the reader quickly realizes what the end result might be.

Ursula ultimately convinces her 10-year-old daughter to attend by threatening to forbid Maggie from attending a party hosted by her best friend Edmund (whose “father owned half of the tall buildings in Central”). Maggie relents, but can’t stay grumpy for long: Maggie’s other best friend, an African parrot named Methuselah, has snuck into the reception by perching on Ursula’s head disguised as a fabulous hat. He mostly goes unnoticed, well at least until Methuselah catches sight of a pomegranate and can’t resist trying to eat it …

There is both comedy (much of it provided by Methuselah) and spirit in Brennan’s book, mixed in with an adventure that begins when, after Methuselah’s pomegranate debacle, Maggie and Methuselah find refuge in a secret tunnel in Government House. The next day at school Maggie learns about the Chater collection paintings, which were hidden on the eve of the Japanese invasion in World War II. When Maggie’s history teacher reveals that, despite many searches, the paintings must still be in the tunnels under Government House, Maggie’s eyes grow wide.

It is Edmund who suggests that he and Maggie conduct their own search in the tunnels, although first they have to find a way to sneak in a now banned-for-life Maggie and Methuselah.

Books set in Hong Kong can sometimes have a doe-eyedness about them … happily not the case with Brennan and Cheung.

The Marvellous Adventures of Maggie and Methuselah: A Mystery in Hong Kong, Sarah Brennan, Charly Cheung (illus) (Blacksmith, September 2021)
The Marvellous Adventures of Maggie and Methuselah: A Mystery in Hong Kong, Sarah Brennan, Charly Cheung (illus) (Blacksmith, September 2021)

As the story progresses, Maggie and Methuselah (a name chosen by Maggie’s stay-at-home father Trevor, an eccentric English mathematician) find themselves engrossed in a plot that takes them around Hong Kong, while meeting a host of characters, including a Government House security guard named Sam who has plans of his own to find the Chater Collection.

Brennan packs in the action to keep the pace (and the laughs) moving, while also successfully creating a cast of memorable characters: there’s Methuselah, who makes for an entertaining companion with the bird’s constant rhyming chatter proving a reliable source of humor, and Maggie’s mother, who is engaged in a book-long petty rivalry with another lawyer. Edmund can both help Maggie with her maths homework and summon a helicopter during the search for the paintings and then there is Maggie herself—obviously privileged (though perhaps not as privileged as Edmund), but with spirit and energy.

Aimed at readers 8-12, the book also includes more than 80 illustrations by Charly Cheung, which help bring the story to life.

 

Books set in Hong Kong can sometimes have a doe-eyedness about them, where the authors over-explain any inclusion of Hong Kong history, culture and traditions or where the characters and descriptions end up reading as tired and clichéd. This is happily not the case with Brennan and Cheung, whose knowledge, experience and sense of Hong Kong allow them to skillfully integrate history, customs and geography in a fun tale with rich illustrations. A good, old-fashioned adventure awaits.


Melanie Ho is the author of Journey to the West: He Hui, a Chinese Soprano in the World of Italian Opera.