Plot summary: Barbara Bunde 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 Bunde’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?
Dorothy Emily Stevenson (later Peploe) was a Scottish author in the 1930s and 1940s. She wrote a lot (40+) of light, romantic novels, in the good old days where nobody had sex and marriage proposals were conducted with a cup of tea in front of the fire. Miss Buncle’s Book follows suit, although it seems to be her most famous work. This book is just lovely – it made me want to snuggle down into an armchair and drift into the world of Silverstream.
Or Copperfield, as the little village is described in Miss Buncle’s new book. A little short of cash (and flatly refusing to have anything to do with keeping chickens), Miss Buncle decides to earn some money the only way she can – by writing a book. By her own admission she is slightly devoid of imagination, so she writes about the only thing she knows – the inhabitants of the village around her.
Miss Buncle’s Book charts the release of her book and the desperation of the villagers to uncover just who is responsible for that ‘despicable piece of trash.’
It’s just so nice. Even the characters who are slated in her book aren’t really nasty – they just receive a gentle nudge in the right direction. Not that they see it that way, of course. However, it’s also quite clever in a subtle, satirical way. Miss Buncle is naive, but Dorothy Stevenson was most certainly not. Her observations are framed in such a way that will make readers smirk, even while Miss Buncle is chatting quite unknowingly to the two young lesbians next door.
On that note, it’s quite a forward-thinking book. There are lesbians (in trousers!) and a man and a lady are friends. It makes the book cute and lovely, but at the same time it doesn’t feel horrendously outdated. Now I think about it, it could have been set this year and it wouldn’t have seemed any different.
I’ve now added a good four books of Ms Stevenson’s to my wishlist, including the sequel to this book, Miss Buncle Married. From this book alone, I would read everything she has ever written, although admittedly it may take me a while. I do wonder why less than ten of them are back in print, but I’ll worry about that when I’ve exhausted the accessible novels.
In short, I really do recommend Miss Buncle’s Book for a charming, witty novel that gently pokes fun at village life.