Today’s team review is from Noelle
Noelle blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com
Noelle has been reading The Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner.
This is the second book by Natalie Jenner, the first – The Jane Austin Society — having received much critical acclaim. I haven’t read that book, but based on the publicity expected something special.
The year is 1950, and the feminist movement is just beginning.
Bloomsbury Books in London has existed as a store for both new and rare books for over a hundred years. Little has changed in the running of the store, with men in leadership positions and women employees living under their rules. Fifty one unbreakable rules generated by the general manager. The chapters are organized by a rule heading, and perhaps that is why the book begins so slowly and plods along for a good while.
The story concerns three women who work in the store. Vivian Lowry is highly intelligent, creative and stylish. Her plan is to become the Head of Fiction, for which she has new ideas. Fiction is currently run by Alec McDonough, who rules the book choices with an old-fashioned hand, and with whom she had a night of passion early in her employment.
Grace Perkins is married with two sons and a husband basically unemployable because of PTSD caused by his service in WWII. Thus as secretary to the store’s general manager, she is the breadwinner of the family and her family lives more or less hand to mouth. She would like nothing better than to move to the front of the store from her place in his office.
Evie Stone is the subject of the prologue and was a character in the author’s first book. She is a member of the first class of female students at Cambridge permitted to earn a graduate degree, but she was denied an academic position because of the male chauvinism of the faculty. Without the possibility of entrance to academia, she is lucky to land a position at Bloomsbury Books, based on her experience in cataloguing a library donated to Cambridge. She is fascinated with the writing of late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century women writers and longs to have a real career, rather than cataloguing the thousand plus rare books at the store.
These three characters are very well drawn, as well as the male characters: Lord Baskin, the earl who owns the bookshop, the general manager Mr. Dutton and his partner Frank Allen, and Alec McDonough. The reader will follow the developments in their lives, especially when the general manager leaves his position, unfortunately only temporarily, which allows the women to take on new and leadership roles. These women have to work within the complex web of relationships that keep the bookstore running. Despite the male hierarchy and their different lifestyles and circumstances, their goal is to create for themselves a richer and more rewarding future.
The author cleverly has them interacting with various famous literary figures and publishers of the time – Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others.
There is mystery and there is romance, but this reader found that despite her interest in the book, the pace was a problem to be reckoned with. The topic of feminism became preachy at times, another aspect that did not appeal, and I wasn’t really sure where the story (ies) were going from chapter to chapter. Thus I was somewhat underwhelmed by this read, especially given the hype preceding its release. .
Nevertheless, on balance, this is a good, solid novel and one which should appeal to many different readers, especially women with a background in the history of literature and a penchant for great character development and for stories of women pulling themselves up in the world.
The internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world.
Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:
Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances – most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.
Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.
Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.
As they interact with various literary figures of the time – Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others – these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.