I thought 'Miss Buncle Married' would make for nice gentle holiday reading (how long ago that seems now) and I was right. It's years since I read 'Miss Buncle's Book' and it turns out my memories of it are vague - I think that Miss Buncle writes a book using her neighbours as the characters, and then the things she invents for them come true (or something rather like that), it all gets rather fraught and eventually Miss Buncle is forced to flee the village - which she does, and falls into the arms of her rather nice publisher Arthur Abbott in the process. 'Miss Buncle Married' picks up the story about a year down the line. Barbara Buncle is now Mrs Abbott and very happy with her Arthur, but if there's a fly in the ointment it's this - they're too popular. Instead of spending time together it's a constant round of dinner parties and bridge which neither of them are really enjoying.
The answer is to move and what follows is a long search for the perfect house, some crazy coincidences, the threat of another novel, and some suitably happy endings. D E Stevenson was a prolific author, and extremely popular in her day, but the majority of her books are distinctly average, 'Miss Buncle's Book' it seems, was the exception that proved the rule - it's genuinely charming. 'Miss Buncle Married' appeared a couple of years later and is 'dedicated to those who liked Miss Buncle and asked for more'. I seem to remember that after Miss Buncle first came out Persephone stated quite clearly that they wouldn't publish the sequels because they simply weren't good enough - taking the book on it's own merits this is quite true, it's a fun read, but lacks the extra something that Persephone books normally have. That said I guess they re-printed it for the same reason Stevenson wrote it - for those who liked Miss Buncle and asked for more, and really what better reason could there be? Not every book has to be a masterpiece and before it was reprinted second hand copies of 'Miss Buncle Married' where around £50 a throw.
It's by no means a bad book, there are plenty of moments when Stevenson offers a piece of real insight or something which made me laugh out loud and for anybody (like me) who enjoyed Miss Buncle it's well worth the time spent on it. There is one thing that really stood out though. The Abbott's new neighbours have 3 children; an older son who despite his angelic appearance leans towards the demonic, a younger son who is placid and reasonably ordinary and inbetween a daughter who clearly has obsessive compulsive issues. There is a heartbreakingly sad little portrait of how she deals with her anxieties towards the end of the book - and it's those moments that make all the difference.
I really didn't like Miss Buncle's Book - I always seem to dislike the more "charming" Persephone titles that everyone else adores - but I am a D.E. Stevenson fan. Yes, she has some awful books and the rest are mostly mediocre but when she gets it just right it is wonderful (Sarah Morris Remembers, The English Air, Listening Valley). She was so good at capturing tiny, very human little moments and, despite her flaws, that does make her books interesting to read. I've got Miss Buncle Married waiting on my shelf; I'm not expecting great things but I will be interested to see what I think!ReplyDelete
I'll be interested too. I haven't read enough Stevenson to have much of an opinion, but so far 'Miss Buncle's Book' is the one I've enjoyed most. Now I've adjusted my expectations however I've found the other books I've come across quietly enjoyable and will continue to look out for her.Delete
This is interesting to me as I want to read her books but am having difficulty in finding them ( I see old editions, which appeal to me, for sale online at higher prices than I want to pay!). I did just get one from the library (The House of The Deer)so look forward to getting into that. The library also had some of the Mrs. Tim series, but was missing the first one and I prefer to read them in order as I assume it does matter? Or perhaps it doesn't?ReplyDelete
I've only read the first Mrs Tim so am not sure how much it matters, and I agree about the price of her books second hand. There are a few in print but they're all quite expensive paperbacks as well so you have to really want them. In the UK at least the first Mrs Tim book is the cheapest and (from 53p on amazon) and worth buying.Delete
I've enjoyed remembering Miss Buncle's Book through this review. Maybe I'll re read that rather than reading Miss Buncle Married.ReplyDelete
Read both if you get the chance! The first one is better but this is such a nice book that it's worth looking out for. Stevenson makes some interesting points in it too about female independence and how men were dealing with that between the wars.Delete
I definitely agree with you on the two Miss Buncle books. I bought a bunch of Stevenson's other books which are nothing like the Buncles. Pretty standard romances. But I love them anyway. I find them very comforting.ReplyDelete
I've read Mrs Tim, the 2 Miss Buncle books and one called Amberwell (I think, I didn't keep it so can't check) and all apart from 'Miss Buncle's Book' have been so so. Now that my expectations are suitably managed I'll happily pick up anyting with her name on because as you say, they're comforting, and often that's what I want.ReplyDelete