First Published: 1934
Source: Suburban Library
How I Found Out About It: Initially discovered it through the Persephone Books’ website, but was intrigued after reading bloggers’ reviews (most notably, Teresa’s review)
First Sentence: “One fine summer’s morning the sun peeped over the hills and looked down upon the valley of Silverstream.”
There is a word that just keeps popping into my brain every time I think about Miss Buncle’s Book. The word jumps up and down in my head. Pick me, pick me! it says, but I keep searching the nooks and crannies of my brain, hoping to find another word that is as apt of a descriptor as the word that longs to be picked. The word is the perfect word but I fear if I use it, people won’t be tempted to pick up this book the way I want them to do. The pity is, the perfect word is overused in our bookish culture, and I’m afraid we’re all becoming immune to it. The publishing companies stick it on the front and back covers of their books with alarming frequency, and after walking around the public library today, I spotted it in no less than three displays.
What can I say about this book without using that word? Miss Buncle’s Book was first published in 1934 by D.E. Stevenson, who Goodreads has informed me was a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson. The book is set in Silverstream, a fictional English country village, and concerns the misadventures of the town’s townspeople after one of them, Miss Barbara Buncle (an “old maid” – I think she’s in her 30s) writes a thinly veiled novel about them under a male pseudonym. None of the townspeople of Silverstream are left untouched by the characterizations of them in Miss Buncle’s book, including Miss Buncle herself.
Each character is finely drawn, and even though they are quite quirky, they possess some of the same traits and concerns of real people, particularly those in small communities. I’ve never been to an English village and have always lived in small- to medium-sized cities where I couldn’t possibly know everyone. Nevertheless, I can definitely pinpoint a few Mrs. Featherstone Hoggs and Vivian Greensleeves in my acquaintances (unfortunately), and one or two Mrs. Walkers and Sally Carters too (thankfully). The book has a slightly old-fashioned feel to it, especially considering that it was published in an age preceding the current one, but its themes still ring true. (If I were describing this book to a non-reader, which I don’t think any of you are, I’d liken it to Gossip Girl.) Miss Buncle’s Book is a cozy story but it’s also an intelligent story, with just enough satire and meta-ness to compensate for too much sweetness or quaintness.
This book reminds me somewhat of other books. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons comes to mind, as do certain elements of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. But this book is really its own thing, and it is utterly – here’s the perfect word, no getting around it – delightful.