Sunday 28 May 2023

CBR15 Book 20: "Miss Buncle's Book" by D.E. Stevenson

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

15-word review: Anonymous spinster Barbara Buncle writes a book to pay the bills, her entire village rages.

This witty novel, originally published in 1934, features rather plain and unassuming village spinster Barbara Buncle falling on hard times and writing a novel to make enough money to be able to pay her bills. She briefly considered keeping chickens but doesn't like birds. As Miss Buncle hasn't really been anywhere or experienced much outside village life, she uses her own neighbours and the village of Copperfield where she lives as her inspiration. It's only when her novel, "Disturber of the Peace" comes out, under the assumed name of John Smith, that the shenanigans begin. 

Once a couple of the villagers read the novel, and recognise themselves and others around them in the thinly veiled caricatures, the rumour mill starts and soon everyone needs their own copy. Miss Buncle's London publisher, who wasn't entirely sure if the book he agreed to publish is a brilliant satire or just a strange little tale about a seemingly innocuous country village, visited one night by a mysterious piper, who sets in motion a lot of life-changing events for the inhabitants, is delighted. It's quite clear that the scandalised villagers have no idea that with every copy sold, the mysterious "John Smith" makes even more money so they're rather playing into "his" hands with their outrage.

Several prominent villagers become determined to uncover the true identity of the author, leading to some truly amusing conversations and meetings in sitting rooms. Then, several of the events in the novel in fact seem to start happening in reality as well. A confirmed bachelor proposes to his neighbour, and they elope. Two confirmed spinsters leave town together to visit warmer climates (as one is rather in need of somewhere less damp than an English village). As the weeks pass and more and more of the villagers read the novel, the search for the identity of the author gets a bit out of hand. Meanwhile, Miss Buncle has been tasked with writing a follow-up to her debut, as "The Disturber of the Peace" is selling like hotcakes all over the country. 

This book felt extremely British to me, and to anyone who's watched Agatha Christie adaptations, or other pleasant stories set in quaint English villages shouldn't have any problem imagining the various characters who populate Copperfield. Stevenson manages to flesh out and bring to life a large cast of characters, some very sympathetic, others rather loathsome. There are very few irredeemable individuals in the story, in fact, there is a refreshing amount of complexity in the sprawling cast. Miss Buncle is a very likable protagonist, and the reader can't help but be amused as she not only overcomes her initial financial difficulties but comes to realise that her little book has made her quite wealthy. With the advice of some new friends, she allows herself to splurge a bit and give herself a makeover. Even with her new expenditures, no one in the village seems to figure out that she's "John Smith".

I think I first saw this book recommended on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and bought it in an e-book sale ages ago. In March, it fit into a number of my reading challenges, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Apparently, it's the first in a series. I'm not entirely sure I need to read the continuing adventures of authoress Barbara, however. This doesn't feel like it needed sequels. 

Judging a book by its cover: This cover is obviously not the original, and until I got to the latter half of the book, when Barbara finally gets to spend some money and gets a fashionable haircut and new clothes, the lady on the cover seemed stylish, but rather inappropriate in what was the story of a dowdy village spinster. I especially love the scarf blowing in the wind. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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