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My mom read this book by D. E. Stevenson about a year ago and has been bugging me to read it ever since. I finally got around to it, mostly because I needed to read a book published between 1900 and 1950 for this year’s read harder challenge and Stevenson’s book was originally published in the 1930s. Also I was in the mood for a light read and this fit the bill perfectly.
Barbara Buncle is a middle class woman living alone in a small town somewhere in Britain. We’re never told exactly where and it’s a fictional town, the point is it’s supposed to be a pretty typical British small town. This is after the great crash of 1929 and Miss Buncle, who has never had to work a day in her life, is in need of some income because her dividends have dwindled to pretty much nothing. She considers raising hens, but her maid hates hens and would never put up with it, and Miss Buncle knows nothing about raising hens, so she decides to write a book.
The problem is Miss Buncle claims she has no imagination, so she ends up writing a novel about a small town that looks an awful lot like her small town, inhabited by characters who very much resemble her neighbors. The book gets picked up by a publisher, gets published under the name “John Smith,” and becomes a bestseller. When her neighbors read the book and recognize themselves, they are not happy about it and hilarity ensues.
I loved the characters in this book and had so much fun reading it. The domineering woman of the small town who loves to order everyone about, Mrs. Featherstone Hogg, is especially upset by how she’s portrayed in the book, even as she insists she is nothing at all like the character who is clearly meant to be herself. She tries to sue the publisher for libel, but her attorney all but laughs her out of his office.
So Mrs. Featherstone Hogg determines to take matters into her own hands and calls a town meeting, inviting everyone over for tea who appears in the book so they can try to figure out who this John Smith might be and how to punish him. Mrs. Featherstone Hogg is determined to horsewhip him, even though she has no idea what it actually means to horsewhip someone.
Miss Buncle is, of course, invited to the meeting, although she dreads sitting in a room full of people complaining about her book and trying to find out who she is. Most of the meeting consists of everyone insisting that details in the book are entirely fictional because they would never do XYZ. They decide Mrs. Walker is John Smith because she hardly appears in the book at all. Miss Buncle, who is friends with Mrs. Walker, tries to confess to her friend that she’s John Smith, but Mrs. Walker doesn’t believe her for a second and insists no one else will believe Miss Buncle if she tries to take the fall for Mrs. Walker.
As Miss Buncle earns a fair amount of money from her book and buys herself a new wardrobe, she starts to feel more confident and to act more like Elizabeth Wade, the character in the book who is a kind of idealized version of herself. While Miss Buncle is shy and awkward, Miss Wade is confident and popular and always knows the right thing to say.
And yet I think it’s worth noting that Miss Buncle must bear some resemblance to Miss Wade because Miss Buncle was invited to Mrs. Featherstone Hogg’s meeting, to which only people who appeared in the book were invited. She may be more like Miss Wade than she realizes.
My favorite part of the book is that some of Miss Buncle’s neighbors end up doing what their characters did in her book, which was not her intention at all, but completely delights her. Two people end up getting married, one woman does not leave her overbearing husband, but they take a sort of leave of absence from each other and he’s more appreciative when she returns.
All in all this was a delightful little book that you can get through in an afternoon if you’re a fast reader and have nothing else to do. It’s a very cozy read and I absolutely recommend it, especially as a palate cleanser if you’re in a rut.
What did you guys read this week? Any other cozy reads?