I’m going to borrow a feature title from the Book Smugglers again and call this Old School Wednesday – taking a break from trying to keep up with the latest hot releases by reading an older book. This one first came out in 1936, but I had never heard of it until this year.
Miss Buncle’s Book by D. E. Stevenson. Sourcebooks Landmark. Originally published in 1936 by Herbert Jenkins Ltd.
It’s 1930s England, and Barbara Buncle, a single woman, needs a way to support herself, since her investments are no longer producing enough money. She hits upon the idea of writing a book, but since she feels she has no imagination, she writes a novel set in her own village, populated by the people who really live there. She changes their names, of course, but they are still quite recognizable. The first half pretty much follows real life, but she finds she has some imagination in the second half after all, writing of an almost magical Golden Boy who appears and brings change to the village. As the story opens, she is just finding a publisher for her book.
Miss Buncle hadn’t worried much about the reaction to her book because she really didn’t think anyone she knew would read it. But the book becomes a bestseller and her neighbors do read it. They recognize themselves. They are not happy – at least the ones who are pictured unflatteringly – are not happy. Miss Buncle, though happy with the income, is under some pressure. There is pressure from people in the village to unpublish her book (how?) and from the publisher to write another, though she is not feeling inspired. Then, an older teen girl, Sally, comes to visit her aunt in the village, and she and Miss Buncle become friends. Suddenly, parts of the book that were most definitely Miss Buncle’s imagination to begin with start to come true…
This was filled with well-drawn characters and wry reflections, especially on the limitations gender roles put on Miss Buncle and many of the other women in the village. While of course a product of its time, Miss Buncle still has a satisfying character arc. It is also just hilarious, and the plot went some directions that I was not expecting. It’s written for adults, but there is nothing inappropriate for advanced younger readers. My sister recommended this to me, saying that the following books in the series are even better. I really should get around to reading them, too.