Category: Fiction/Humour – Paperback: 304 pages – Publisher: Sourcebooks – Source: Publisher via NetGalley
First Published: 1934
Crossed off my Classics Club list
Having just finished The Sisters Brothers (a Western) and Ready Player One (set in the world of computer games and geeks) back-to-back, I was in need of a lighthearted, frothy book. Preferably one with no death and extraordinarily little peril. Miss Buncle’s Book hit the spot nicely.
Barbara Buncle, a rather simple, dowdy, thirty-something woman living in a small village called Silverstream, is worried about how she’ll survive the economic downturn of the early 1930s. Her dividends are dwindling away and she’s in danger of not being able to pay her bills. So she writes a book. Being a rather curious blend of pragmatism and daydreaming she decides she has to write about what she knows as she has no imagination. In her story Silverstream becomes Copperfield and the villagers she has watched for years in church, at tea and over the garden gate are all included… and only the names are really changed. Colonel Weatherhead becomes Major Waterfoot, Dr Walker becomes Dr Rider and so on but their personalities are mimicked perfectly: the good are good in every detail, the mean-spirited are exposed. And then in the middle of the book Barbara’s suppressed imagination takes flight and she imagines fitting endings for some of the characters…
Of course, once the book is published it’s only a matter of time before the villagers realise that they have a secret writer in their midst and chaos ensues as they try to expose the author, ‘John Smith’. The village bully, Mrs Featherstone Hogg, is horrified at her portrayal in the book and begins to throw her weight around to try and suppress it. There are plots to catch John Smith, marriage proposals, curious changes of hearts and even a kidnap as the village tries to solve the mystery and Miss Buncle tries to evade capture for as long as she can. Or at least until her second book is published!
I rather enjoyed it all. The recession setting made me sympathise with the author’s need to escape talk of the economy with this gentle little story of a woman writing her way to love, wealth and happiness and the ideas are fun even though the execution of them is a bit flawed. There’s no real depth to the story, the characters are obvious and although there are some funny pieces of dialogue I don’t think you could go so far as to call it witty, but it has charm and was a lovely way to while a sunny afternoon. In another author’s hands it might have been more satirical or had a sharper ending but, as it is, Miss Buncle’s Book is total escapism. Sometimes that’s just what you’re looking for.