Miss Buncle’s Book

I’ve been having a particularly vexing week, dealing with some ongoing health issues (nothing serious, just annoying problems I’d like to be rid of) and having my computer in the shop. So it was nice to have an e-galley of a thoroughly pleasant book like D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book at hand.

First published in 1934 and just now republished in the U.S. by Sourcebooks (and previously by Persephone in the U.K.), Miss Buncle’s Book is the story of Silverstream, a quirky English town filled with pleasant and not-so-pleasant people who manage to live together quite peacefully until something comes along to disturb their peace. That disturbance comes in the form of a pseudonymously published novel about a town called Copperfield that is filled with characters who look uncannily like the people of Silverstream. Some look at the novel, appropriately titled Disturber of the Peace, with amusement, but most are scandalized.

The book’s author, Barbara Buncle, had no intention of creating a scandal. She was hard up for money and decided to try writing. By her own admission, she didn’t have the imagination to think up something original, so she just wrote about the people she knew. But her depictions are uncomfortably accurate, and the more imperious, greedy, and cruel citizens of Silversteam want to unveil the author so they can take their revenge. Luckily, unassuming Barbara Buncle is the last suspect on their list.

As I said at the top of this post, this book is thoroughly pleasant, but as is the case with so many Persephone books, it has just enough bite to keep it from being cloying. The nasty characters are thoroughly nasty and not all of them in a comic way. But the overall tone is light and cheerful and funny. The plot takes an unexpectedly sinister turn toward the end, but you never feel the danger (which is a good thing, given that the danger involves children). And interestingly, when the novel goes all meta in the final chapters, that unexpected twist is commented on in very much the same way I would have commented on it, except the fact that Stevenson includes the comment in the narrative takes the wind out of my critical sails. She knew what she was doing there.

One thing that kept coming up that interested me was the question of Barbara Buncle’s intelligence. Miss Buncle is seen by everyone around her, and even by herself, as not being very intelligent. Even her book isn’t seen as evidence of intelligence because it’s not consciously written as satire or social critique. Yet she has the number of every single character in Silverstream. She sees things in them that they didn’t even see in themselves. Her flights of fancy about their futures cause some of them to act on secret desires or find happiness in places they didn’t know to look. Barbara Buncle may lack fashion sense, and she may be naive and unknowing about the ways of the world, but she knows people. There’s intelligence in that.

Stevenson also wrote a sequel, Miss Buncle Married, which was recently published by Persephone and will be published by Sourcebooks next month. I’m hoping to get a chance to read it too. If you’ve read both, I’d love to know how it compares.

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30 Responses to Miss Buncle’s Book

  1. I thought this was such a delightful book – I have a terribly weak spot for a Cinderella story! I’ve not read the sequel as yet.

  2. Lisa says:

    I’ve seen quite a few references to this book, but I’ve never found a copy. I’m glad to know it’s available now & I’ll be looking for it. Sourcebooks has also been re-printing most of Heyer’s books.

    • Teresa says:

      It is nice that Sourcebooks is publishing these. I’m a huge fan of Persephone books, but having a cheaper US-based option is a good thing.

      And I am having a better weekend. My computer is back from the shop, and I don’t have any doctors’ appointments, so it feels like a holiday :)

  3. Lisa says:

    I meant to add, I hope you have a better weekend than week!

  4. Jeanne says:

    Health issues requiring you to spend time in various doctor’s offices do give you a good opportunity to observe a cross-section of the local population. I think I would like Miss Buncle; I enjoy a character who “knows people.”

    • Teresa says:

      That’s so true–you see all kinds of people at the doctor’s office, and you get to watch them react to stress, which is pretty revealing.

      Miss Buncle is an interesting character because she really doesn’t know how much she knows, so she comes across very differently from a lot of other all-knowing characters.

  5. Jenny says:

    I keep meaning to read Miss Buncle’s Book but haven’t gotten to it yet. I know it’s a sweet, dear book (everyone has said), but I’m just never able to get into it. I keep borrowing Mumsy’s copy and not finishing it. Maybe I will have better luck with the sequel.

    • Teresa says:

      I don’t know that I’d call this a sweet book, although it does have some sweetness in it. I don’t think I’d like it if it were totally sweet. But I can see this not working so well for me if I were in a different mood.

  6. vanbraman says:

    A Lemon and a Star has come in at the library and I am picking it up later today.

  7. Miss Buncle’s Book is such a joy. Miss Buncle Married is worth reading but is not as delightful as the first one.

    • Teresa says:

      I didn’t imagine it would be as good. The premise is so key to what made this book good, and it would be tricky to make that premise work again.

  8. Jenny says:

    Your comments about her intelligence make me think of Miss Marple, who is also mistaken for being un-intelligent, and who knows people. Except maybe not, because Miss Marple never thinks she herself isn’t right or clever about the things that matter. She may not be wise in the ways of the world, but she knows she’s got the solution to the mystery or what have you.

  9. Looking forward to trying this one as well. Liked your review.

  10. Alex says:

    I’ve read this one recently and found it the perfect book to get me out of a reading slump. In my review I’ve mentioned exactly what you did about her intelligence (or the lack of it, as we keep being reminded of). I was also a bit disappointed about the love story, but apart from that, I found it a completely enjoyable read.

    My 2- euro-cents: http://thesleeplessreader.com/2012/10/02/miss-buncles-book-by-d-e-stevenson/

    • Teresa says:

      The intelligence thing was odd, wasn’t it? I couldn’t quite decide whether the author saw her as intelligent. I didn’t really mind the love story, although I didn’t find it necessary. I was charmed by the older couple, though.

  11. Danielle says:

    It’s good to have books like this on your shelves for just such a week! Someone gave the Persephone edition of this to me when she had finished it, so I have a copy to read eventually, too. I’ve been looking forward to it–must bump it up the pile. I didn’t realize Sourcebooks was publishing it here–they’ve been reissuing a lot of British authors, which I am happy to see–I’ve made a note that they’re publishing the sequel soon, too. I’m quite curious now about the meta part of the book. I’m glad to hear it’s comforting without being saccharine–stories should have just a little bit of bite to them to keep things interesting.

    • Teresa says:

      I find that Persephone books almost always get the right balance of sweetness for me.
      And I hope you enjoy this when you do get to it. I think you will!

  12. Auntie Em says:

    I saw Miss Buncle on a Pinterest post and she looked so intriguing that I had to Google her… I found your blog in the process. It looks beautiful and I can’t wait to dig in deeper!

  13. There is actually a third Buncle book, much harder to find, called The Two Mrs. Abbots. And it is absolutely charming and wholly delightful. I think Stevenson addresses the intelligence issue more completely in the sequels – she views Miss Buncle as quite intelligent (her ability to write clear and effective prose is contrasted with her simpler, less grammatical conversational style), but as an extremely intuitive thinker, more alert to people’s inner feelings than to their social deceptions. I love all Stevenson’s books, and if I could ask a single boon from the Publishing Gods, it would be that all her books would be re-issued as e-books. Today.

    • Teresa says:

      I had no idea there was a third book. I wonder if Sourcebooks or Persephone has plans to republish it–or any of her other books. This was the first Stevenson book I’ve read (I was only dimly aware of the Mrs Tim books and hadn’t even connected them with Stevenson.) I’m hoping to read Miss Buncle Married in the next couple of weeks, and you’ve made me eager to see how her intelligence is dealt with.

    • justaudrey says:

      There are actually four Miss Buncle books that I am aware of: http://www.goodreads.com/series/61159-miss-buncle. I’ve only read the first one, though.

  14. Have you read Mrs. Tim? It’s lovely, also, although I actually like ALL the sequels better than the original book.

  15. sakura says:

    I’ve heard so much about this book from my blogging friends and it’s on my wishlist. It must be one of those things every author tries so hard to stay clear off, that their characters would be recognised by the very people they are based on!

    • Teresa says:

      Miss Buncle claimed she didn’t have the imagination to make up people–she just didn’t expect the book to be read, especially not by anyone in her town!

  16. Pingback: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson | Toward Infinity

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