Miriam's Reviews > Miss Buncle's Book

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson
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it was amazing
bookshelves: books
Recommended for: Readers, writers, people who find themselves cast as characters in novels

I loved Miss Buncle. I loved Miss Buncle's Book*. I loved Miss Buncle's book. I loved the book within Miss Buncle's book.

Barbara Buncle is in serious need to some income to support herself and her elderly nurse. What's a genteel spinster to do when she has no skills and women don't get jobs? Write a book? Keep chickens? She hates chickens! A book it is, then.

Having, by her own assessment, no imagination, Miss Buncle decides to simply record the daily life of her small town, changing her neighbors' names but otherwise portraying them faithfully. Hey, what's the chance of any of them ever reading it, right? To make it more interesting, she adds in some adventures, romances and travels for people she likes and punishments and embarrassments for those she doesn't (desertion for the local abusive husband, for instance).

But Barbara Buncle is a better writer than she gives herself credit for, and soon her "novel" is a best-seller! Half the town is up in arms, and everyone wants to know who the culprit is. Meek and dowdy Miss Buncle doesn't occur to anyone as a suspect, but how long can she keep her secret?

This is Stevenson at her best, funny and satirical and kind. This was the first book of hers I'd read and it was far cleverer and more humorous than I expected. And despite being very approachable, the prose is also amazingly controlled. Stevenson can be very subtle. Miss Buncle is more observant than she herself is aware, and the gap between the things she writes and says and her understanding of their implications provides some of the funniest and most insightful moments.

For instance, it's never totally clear whether Barbara doesn't realize her two "spinster" neighbors are lesbians, or doesn't realize that other people will disapprove of them when she accidentally outs them. Stevenson clearly has no problem with lesbianism (they get to vacation in Egypt! In trousers!), which was a little surprising to me in a book written for middle class women of the 1930s. I especially liked that one lesbian and the married doctor who were childhood best friends are still friends and hang out talking about their relationships.

Stevenson is also very kind to her less, um, intellectually gifted characters. The Major, for instance, has no introspection, can hardly follow a conversation, and thinks in cliches. Many authors would make him a stock character, a buffoon and probably a bigot, but just when the reader is judging him (man, what an idiot!) Stevenson gently points out that he is also one of the kinder and more decent people in town. Do the stupid and simple deserve happiness any less? Let him have his happy ending, even if it is a maudlin one.

Stevenson is very charitable: few of her unsympathetic characters are irremediably bad. Some of them just need a wake up call. Where the inexperienced Miss Buncle takes pleasure in giving her characters what she thinks they deserve, Stevenson gives hers what they need.

*Except for the cover. In addition to being hideous, um, the main character is supposed to be 32. I understand that 32 used to be considered an "old maid" but that doesn't mean she looked 65!
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 28, 2012 – Shelved
December 28, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new)

Michael Isn´t there a slight resemblance to the author herself? So maybe the cover should not show Miss Buncle? Anyway an interesting review. I didn´t know that R.L. Stevenson had a cousin who was also a prolific writer.

Vanessa Frymier They must have updated it, I have one with a vintage drawn lady. That's why I bought it. If I had seen the one with the old lady I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought.

message 3: by Miriam (last edited Apr 11, 2013 02:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Miriam Yes, there are several other covers. This one from the 60s seems the most accurate:

The new one looks too flirty and stylish for how she is described in the book.

Jaye Yes, the cover showing her sitting at a desk is much better. The older one almost makes her look like she is posing in a bodybuilders competion !

message 5: by Jan (new)

Jan This review sounds like a book I might want to read. This is a very detailed and interesting review!

Miriam Thanks, Jan! Since your profile is private I can't tell what other books you've liked, but I think this is very good.

Simon Very interesting, about the different covers!

Jaye Simon wrote: "Very interesting, about the different covers!"

It always aggravates me when the cover doesn't match up with the book.
Especially when it becomes obvious that no effort was made to even be close to the subject matter.

Miriam Indeed. The cover of my version doesn't even have the excuse of being prettied up to sell more copies.

message 10: by Kwoomac (new)

Kwoomac She looks like a cross between Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush.

message 11: by Miriam (last edited Aug 22, 2015 08:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Miriam In personality, more like a cross between Miss Marple and a shy teen.

message 12: by Sharon (new)

Sharon B I have a different cover. Mine makes her look a little vampish/flapperish so I decided that was Barbara Wade! Love your cover. As you suggested... maybe 72 rather than 32. For those who love Miss Buncle, I'd suggest Miss Pettigrew Lives for a day by Winifred Watson. The movie w/ Frances McDormant was really good. THe book was better.

Miriam Thanks, Sharon. A lot of my friends liked that book. I'll probably read it eventually. Sigh. Need more hours in the day.

message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul "...few of her unsympathetic characters are irremediably bad." The exception is pretty obvious. It's an interesting happenstance that I just finished reading the Three Musketeers, considering that Lady de Winter is also in this book under another of her many assumed names.

Miriam Yes, although I don't recall that anyone gets punished in this story, aside from the mild punishment of a bit of local ridicule. Hardly anyone ever seems to get punished in Stevenson novels except for women who want divorces (they contract mysterious fatal illnesses).

message 16: by Paul (last edited Mar 08, 2016 01:42PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Drat. Having just read the [redacted] scene, I found myself hoping that a certain so-and-so was going to be in a tragic car accident.

Miriam Maybe in a later book.

Jennifer Nice review. Agree about the cover of the edition you reviewed--preposterous! I'm reading this book now and the set currently in publication have very lovely covers! :-)

Miriam Do you mean this one? Or is there something newer?

I like that as an image but it is too pretty and chick-lit for the book, I think.

There is also this interesting choice (I've seen more that one edition like this) where they use what is described as the cover of the book the character publishes:

message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Secor I bought the Persephone edition - handsome standard grey cover - so I wasn't influenced and could imagine my own version of Barbara Buncle.

Miriam Good call. I wouldn't have touched this over without a strong recommendation.

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