Published 1934, reprinted 1947
Grosset & Dunlap
New York, NY
by arrangement with Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I first learned of Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson through my friend and fellow bibliophile, Alison. Uncertain at the time whether it was worth dropping $20+ for my own copy I chose instead to borrow an older copy through my local library's Inter Library Loan program, which was free. The book arrived a week later and I nearly dropped everything that even in order to make time to read.
From the beginning I was intrigued and excited by the story's plot. Barbara Buncle, a "spinster" in her mid 30s lives in the small and close-knit English village of Silverstream. Finding herself in need of a new source of income, Miss Buncle, passes over the idea of raising chickens or taking in borders and instead writes a novel. The book, eventually titled Disturber of the Peace, tells of the every day drama and adventures of the towns people in the small close-knit village of Copperfield. Although Miss Buncle hopes to make some money by selling her fictional novel she has no idea how much her life is about to change.
For starters, her novel is bought by the first publisher she sends it to, imagine that! Then when it becomes an instant bestseller she discovers the story has turned life upside down when some of her neighbors recognize themselves within the novel! What ensues is a story of romance, comedy, and drama that reminds the characters as well as the reader that truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
"The theme was unusual and intriguing. Mr Abbott had never before read a novel about a woman who wrote a novel about a woman who wrote a novel -- it was like a recurring decimal, he though, or perhaps even more like a perspective of mirrors such as tailors use, in which the woman and her novel were reflected back and forth to infinity. It made your brain reel if you pursued the thought too far, but there was no need to do so, unless you wanted to, of course. So much for the main theme." (Miss Buncle's Book, Chpt. 24, pgs. 297-298)
Miss Buncle's Book is indeed unusual and intriguing. It is exactly as Miss Buncle's publisher Mr. Abbott observes, a novel written by a woman (D. E. Stevenson) about a woman (Barbara Buncle) who writes a novel about a woman (Elizabeth Wade) who writes a novel about a woman who writes a novel... But it's not only unusual and intriguing, it is also charming, witty, and romantic with a rich tapestry of quirky, lovable, and even despicable characters. As one might guess from the title, Miss Buncle's Book is more about the book and its influence on the people of Silverstream than it is just a story of Barbara Buncle... And yet, it is a story of Miss Buncle too. When the story begins she is a drab timid woman living a rather dull life, but by the end she has blossomed into a sparkling and beautiful woman whose life is filled with excitement, adventure, and love.
Written in 1934, Miss Buncle's Book was the fourth novel by D. E. Stevenson (a.k.a Dorothy Emily Stevenson). And although to readers in the 21st century she is not as famous as her cousin, Robert Louis Stevenson, she was, during her lifetime, quite a popular and prolific author, penning 45 novels in nearly as many years.
It is indeed an unfortunate fact that all but one of her books are now out of print. Thankfully such programs like Inter Library Loan exists allowing a new generation of readers to read Ms. Stevenson's stories of light romance. And also thanks to a small UK publishing company called Persephone Books, this same generation can own a reasonablly priced copy of Miss Buncle's Book (2008).
On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent, I would rate Miss Buncle's Book is a 5. It is a MUST read, especially for those who have read and enjoyed Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day or The Making of a Marchioness. And if you were to ask me, I'd say skip borrowing and go buy a copy for your personal library. I've already requested the sequel Miss Buncle Married from my local library's ILL system and am hoping to track down the third in the series after that. And yes, in case you are wondering, I am saving up my book money so I can buy a copy from Persephone to add to my personal library.
If you like Miss Buncle's Book you might also enjoy:
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (reviewed)
The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (reviewed)
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (reviewed)
A Weaver of Dreams by Myrtle Reed (reviewed)