D. E. Stevenson was a Scottish writer who lived from 1892-1973. Her books were best-sellers in their time and continue to be read widely today.
In Miss Buncle’s Book, Barbara Buncle is a single lady in her thirties. Due to a dwindling income, she decides to write a book to try to earn some extra money. She doesn’t have any imagination, she insists, so she writes what she knows–her neighbors in the town of Silverstream. She changes their names and has them interact in different ways. She sends the manuscript in under the pseudonym John Smith.
The publisher loves her novel, though he can’t quite decide whether it’s written satirically or straightforwardly. Either way, he feels the book will do well.
And he’s right: the book becomes a bestseller.
The only problem is, most of the inhabitants of Silverstream recognize themselves in the fictional town of Copperfield. Some think the book is great fun. Others are offended at the way they are portrayed or at their secrets coming out. Everyone agrees that “John Smith” must live among them—how else would he know them so well? So the hunt is on.
Meanwhile, the book has an effect on its readers. Some recognize their flaws and change. Colonel Weatherhead enjoys the novel but doesn’t see the parallels with his neighbors. He particularly enjoys the colonel in the book who dramatically proposes to his neighbor in the garden. But after finishing the book, Colonel Weatherhead finds himself restless. He’s never been discontent with his life before. But now he seems lonely. And somehow he never noticed before that his neighbor is both nice and attractive. Maybe he should call on her. . . Thus life for some begins to imitate art.
Barbara herself gets lost in her thoughts sometimes as to whether she’s in Silverstream or Copperfield. Her counterpart in the book, Elisabeth Wade, is much more confident. So Barbara begins to act as Elisabeth Wade.
But the discontented readers are worked up to a fever pitch in their search for John Smith and their desire to make him pay for what he has written about them.
Overall this was a fun book with a very satisfactory ending.
Having read much about writing and publishing the last few years, some of the comments on those subjects had me smiling.
Barbara’s publisher: “What fools the public were! They were exactly like sheep…thought Mr. Abbott sleepily…following each other’s lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn’t see what the one lacked and the other possessed.”
Miss Buncle did impress him because she wasn’t trying to.
Mr. Abbott could have cheated Miss Buncle quite easily if he had wanted to. Fortunately for her, he didn’t want to. It was not his way. You make friends with the goose and treat it decently, and it continues to lay golden eggs.
Miss Buncle after signing her contract: “I’m an author. How very odd.”
Miss Buncle on receiving her first print copy of her book: “She had spent the whole morning reading her book, and marveling at the astounding fact that she had written every word of it, and here it was, actually in print.
“And why to me?” inquired Mr. Abbott with much interest. “I mean why did you send the book to me? Perhaps you had heard from somebody that our firm—”
“Oh, no,” she exclaimed. “I knew nothing at all about publishers. You were the first on the list—alphabetically—that was all.” Mr. Abbott was somewhat taken aback—on such trifles hang the fates of bestsellers!
Dorcas [the maid] was beginning to get used to living in the house with an author. It was not comfortable, she found, and it was distinctly trying to the temper.
Authors! said Dorcas to herself with scornful emphasis—Authors indeed!—Well, I’ll never read a book again but what I’ll think of the people as has had to put up with the author, I know that.—Preparing meals, and beating the gong, and going back ’alf an hour later to find nobody’s ever been near them, and the mutton fat frozen solid in the dish, and the soup stone cold—and them ringing bells at all hours for coffee, “and make it strong Dorcas—make it strong!” and them writing half the night, and lying in bed half the day with people toiling up to their bedrooms with trays.—Authors—poof! said Dorcas to herself.
“Dorcas, I could never give up writing now,” she said, incredulously (nor could she, the vice had got her firmly in its grip, as well ask a morphinomaniac to give up drugs). “You don’t know how exciting it is, Dorcas. It just sweeps you along and you’ve no idea of the time—”
I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Patricia Gallimore. She portrayed all the characters so well, from the sly Mrs. Greensleeves to the morose Mr. Bulmer and the haughty Mrs. Featherstone Hogg and so many more.
This is not a Christian book, so of course I wouldn’t agree with everything the characters do.
This book is the first of three about Miss Buncle. I’m pretty sure I’ll read the next one some time in the future.
This sounds like a really fun light read!! Thanks for the great review.
This book sounds good. I am going to look for it.
I was attracted by your title. Reading your review has been fun. I can imagine the characters vividly. I look forward to reading your reviews on her next two books!
Oh my! I love the plot. I can imagine myself writing about my neighborhood and getting flack from the neighbors. It’s hilarious.
It’s a good reminder that if we write about neighbors, we need to “disguise” them. 🙂
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