The storyline of Miss Buncle’s Book (1934) is a simple one: Barbara Buncle, who is unmarried and perhaps in her late 30s, lives in a small village and writes a novel about it in order to try and supplement her meagre income.
For the first third of the book, I enjoyed it and found it charming, but easily forgettable. I dropped it for many weeks, almost forgetting that I hadn’t finished it, until on Christmas night I found myself lacking a book to read. Kindle at the ready, I took myself off to bed to read for a while. That “while” ended up being several hours, at which point the party I was avoiding ended, and I finally went to sleep. The next night, I again found myself up until 4 o’clock in the depths of finishing this book!
It was the perfect book for a laid back, Christmassy mood. No one wants to be slogging through the Russian greats when all your belly can do is grumble for another serving of ham and you’re pouring yourself your third Baileys (which for me is about 2.5 too many!) The premise is simple, the characters are funny and the story charming.
Miss Buncle is a rather quiet heroine, whom nobody suspects could possibly be clever enough to write a novel, let alone one so astute that could rock a little town to its core. She’s a smart cookie, and watches the townspeople with a keen eye. They have absolutely no idea that what they’re doing is feeding her content for her next book by acting like complete fools in regard to the first one, the aptly named Disturber of the Peace.
The leader of the band of naysayers is Mrs Featherstone-Hogg, a woman so caricatured that she manages to be exactly relatable to someone you know. She’s in the realm of the perpetually outraged. She literally wants the author of Disturber of the Peace to be horse whipped once she gets her hands on them. Obviously, this is the main antagonist of the novel, though she has her willing sidekicks ready to leap on the person who so truthfully depicted them in all their glory… or in some cases, evil.
Stevenson manages to touch on three rather interesting and important themes; domestic abuse, lesbianism, education and spinsterhood. There is a lesbian couple in this book, skirted around and never stated outright, but they are there, and they are sympathetically rendered by all. Women’s education is touched upon, as several women who could have been intensely clever are left without an education because of their father, or family’s, patriarchal opinion that smart women are an abhorration. There is a woman who is pitied by the more sensitive women in the community, who is married to a man who treats her and her children with disdain at best. She literally goes to ask a friend what to do because he was nice to her at breakfast. Her children are described as “mice”, who are timid and tiptoe around their house, and are unable to relate to other children. She also deals with the perils of spinsterhood, the lack of money that it can entail, and how women feel it is better to have a mediocre husband than none at all.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a light read that touches on some heavy topics with grace. It was laugh out loud funny at several points, and I’m definitely going to be keeping it for future comfort reading!