Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Quality Comfort Reads
I picked up Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson on the recommendation of dovegreyreader and was thoroughly charmed by it.
Miss Buncle writes a novel not because she has always had a burning desire to do so but because her dividends are not coming in as reliably as they once did and she needs to make some money. She has a talent for writing but no imagination so her novel is, for the most part, a faithful record, albeit with the names of people and places changed, of the goings-on in the English village in which she lives. When it is published under a pseudonym (“John Smith”) and the villagers get hold of it, much consternation and drama ensue. The villagers’ self-perceptions and their relationships with one another are thoroughly shaken up by the experience of seeing themselves through the eyes of “John Smith.” And in the aftermath, Miss Buncle gains a new respect for the power of the pen.
Miss Buncle’s publisher describes her second novel—her first quickly became a bestseller so, of course, there had be a follow-up—as “delicate farce (if such a thing can be).” This description is also an apt one for Miss Buncle’s Book. There were odd moments when it seemed to lag, but it may have felt like a slower read to me than it actually was given that the only copy I could find in the library was a large print edition. On the whole, I found it to be a most enjoyable read. Miss Buncle’s experience of the writing life rarely resonated with my own but Stevenson’s depiction of it provoked plenty of chuckles from me all the same.
I would sum up Miss Buncle’s Book as a quality comfort read, full of charm and gentle humour, in a similar vein to Elizabeth Von Arnim’s The Enchanted April and Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels.
This novel is my first encounter with the work of D.E. Stevenson. She was born in Edinburgh in 1892 and was a distant relative of Robert Louis Stevenson. She wrote more than 40 novels in her lifetime so there are plenty more out there for me to discover. They are out of print and thus difficult to come by in bookstores, but happily several are available at my local library. I’ve already put the next instalment of Miss Buncle’s adventures on hold.