Published by Persephone Books
Publication date – 1 October 2008
Source – own copy
Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara’s bank account has seen better days. Maybe she could sell a novel … if she knew any stories. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration from her fellow residents of Silverstream, the little English village she knows inside and out.
To her surprise, the novel is a smash. It’s a good thing she wrote under a pseudonym, because the folks of Silverstream are in an uproar. But what really turns Miss Buncle’s world around is this: what happens to the characters in her book starts happening to their real-life counterparts. Does life really imitate art?
A beloved author who has sold more than seven million books, D. E. Stevenson is at her best with Miss Buncle’s Book, crafting a highly original and charming tale about what happens when people see themselves through someone else’s eyes.
Miss Buncle’s finances are in dire need of a boost. She’s discounted keeping chickens or letting in paying guests. She of course can’t let go of her maid so she resorts to one of the only avenues of income available to her. She writes a book. Little does she realise the effect her book will have on the residents of her village and on her own life.
This book is a delight from start to finish so much so that it was only the fact that there are two more books to feature Barbara Buncle that stopped the last page from being bittersweet.
Miss Buncle’s Book works its magic over the reader, much like Disturber of the Peace does to the residents of Silverstream. The title of the fictional book is apt for it does indeed disturb the peace of the village, and disturbs Miss Buncle’s life in unforeseen ways.
It is a joy to see the effects the book has over the residents slowly unfold. Life imitating art imitating life, the differing reactions of the residents who are all portrayed in the eponymous novel reveal more about themselves than they are aware. Little does Miss Buncle foresee that the fictional actions she creates will be mirrored in the real lives surrounding her.
There are hints at the financial situation of the depression in the novel. Miss Buncle’s finances have seen a hit as her dividends pay out less and less. Looking at the few occupations and cost cutting exercises available to her she turns to writing, seen in the 1930s as a viable source of income for a woman. There are other hints, mothers making clothes for their children, poor widows looking to snare rich husbands to pay off bills and new clothes wondered at in the straightened times.
The novel also takes a jovial look at the novel-writing business. There are comments on the fact that bad reviews are just as good for upping sales as good ones, that word of mouth sells and the fevered state writers can find themselves in when inspiration strikes.
Miss Buncle’s Book is a commentary on the role of women, on the financial crisis of the time and on how we can often see ourselves reflected in literature. It is a comedy of manners, a romance and insight into life in a small village and the changing role of women in the 1930s.
This is a warm, all-encompassing, funny book, with characters that shine from the pages. I loved it. I’ll be seeking out more novels by D E Stevenson soon. Highly recommended.