Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Me and Miss Buncle Get Acquainted

Last week Emily borrowed a book from the Oregon State University library.  She said, "You should read it, Mom."

It was an old green hardcover by D.E. Stevenson called Miss Buncle's Book.  Paul's sister Lois had introduced me to D. E. Stevenson years ago at our annual birthday teas, at which Lois always produces a stack of secondhand books that Anita and I can choose from.  Lois always apologizes that she is not a careful-gift-with-pretty-wrapping person, but Anita and I love this tradition of hers and mentally salivate in anticipation.  Lois is a great one for sniffing out good books and knowing what we'd like.

But despite reading a variety of D.E.Stevenson, thanks to Lois, I had never read this one.

"Mom, you REALLY should read it.  The main character reminds me of you."

Well, that was incentive, but still I held off, feeling that the little time I have for reading should be devoted to something deep like The Emotionally Healthy Church, or to the two book reviews that I promised their authors a long time ago and never got done.

But then I realized that the book would soon be due at the library, and also I caught a bad cold, the kind that had me in such pain from a sore throat that in my dreams I was wandering through large buildings trying to find a clinic to take a swab to see if it was strep, and then I woke up and took ibuprofen and spent the day resting and drinking lemon tea with vinegar and cayenne pepper and honey.

And reading Miss Buncle's Book, because if you're trying to ward off bronchitis you need fluffy and not deep, everyone knows that.

I was charmed right off the bat because Miss Buncle's servant girl was named Dorcas!  This happens so rarely that it's like being a teenager and finding my name on a little thick-soled flip-flop key chain at a gift shop.

And the description of Dorcas getting up in the morning: it was so apt that I laughed and laughed.

"She sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed and rubbed her eyes." [slippers, shuffling, splashing her face follow] "Dorcas was so used to all this that she did it without properly waking up.  In fact it was not until she had shuffled down to the kitchen, boiled the kettle over the gas ring, and made herself a pot of tea that she could be said to be properly awake.  This was the best cup of the day and she lingered over it, feeling somewhat guilty at wasting the precious moments, but enjoying it all the more for that."

The story is set in a village in England in --I'm guessing-- the early 1930s, because lots of people's financial states have deteriorated, including Miss Buncle's.  She used to get dividends sufficient to live on, and they no longer arrive in the previous quantities, so she needs to do something.  

She considers raising hens, among other things.

She decides to write a book, and this is where Emily guessed right that I'd connect with the story, because Miss Buncle wants to write fiction but is so lacking in imagination that she is sure she can't come up with an original story, so she simply changes all the names and uses people from her village as characters in her book, describing them in minute and piercingly accurate detail, being a quiet but sharp observer.

Eventually her imagination kicks in and she has the characters doing what she thinks they ought.  The nasty guy reforms, those two spinsters finally go on a trip overseas, and that man finally marries his neighbor lady.

The book is published under the pseudonym of John Smith and becomes a bestseller.  People in the village start reading it and soon realize that this is WAY too close to home.  

There is a furious determination among some accurately-portrayed citizens to find and punish John Smith.

Miss Buncle quietly observes this and uses it all as fodder for her second book.

I don't want to give away the ending, but you know it all turns out well.

Another passage that made me laugh:

"I believe hens would have been less bother after all, Dorcas thought, as she prepared a tray with the poached egg, a cup of cocoa, and two pieces of brown toast. . . 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."

I enjoyed this as well:

"Mr Abbott [the publisher] had never before read a novel about a woman who wrote a novel about a woman who wrote a novel--it was like a recurring decimal, he thought, . . "

How often have you read a book where something was compared to a recurring decimal?  

I finished the book in plenty of time for Emily to take it back to the library, and my cold is getting much better, and I'm wondering about finally trying my hand at fiction but doing it anonymously so I can do what Miss Buncle did and write about all the fascinating and crazy people around me who are WAY more interesting than anything I could make up.

Read Miss Buncle's Book the next time you catch a cold.  If it turns to bronchitis, God forbid, at least there are three subsequent Miss Buncle books available on Amazon.

Quote of the Day:
"I guess for people to appreciate your cleverness you have to also not confuse them."
--Emily, after she posted on my Facebook page as a joke and everyone took her seriously


  1. I'm sitting here trying to imagine that I'm getting a cold....sniff... was that a tickle in my throat? :) I think a reading a book for fun might be just what I need and I might even skip the 'having a cold' part!

  2. Miss Buncles Book. Is definitely a favorite. Absolutely!!!! My mom introduced it to me and my sisters.

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  5. Miss Buncles Book is one of my favorites!! Great review. Bethany Eicher if you are reading follow up comments - I have most of DE Stevensons books. Our library system does t carry them anymore.

  6. Also, the Mrs. Tim series is just as good...

  7. oooh, I'm going to find this book! My mom introduced me to D.E. Stevenson. I adore this kind of British woman writer and I've collected a lot.

    ALso, I have a dear friend Marilou who brings stacks of secondhand books to any occasion or meet-up of friends and doles them out with a genius for who might like what. She has introduced me to so many authors that I love. In fact, I have a little competition with her husband to see if I can find an author that he has not read/loved.

  8. I love Miss Buncle's Book! It is one of the best.

  9. Ahh, dear Barbara Buncle! Another fun thing about her book is how she changed the names -- Abbott and Spicer became Nun and Nutmeg, for example. I think that's my favorite. :)

  10. Loved this!! So much that I just went and put it on hold at our library. :)

  11. It is so lovely that you have discovered D.E. Stevenson! I discovered her 30 or so years ago, when I should have been doing something important and earnest, rather than chuckling quietly to myself. And then running to the library to see if I could find another one!

  12. I love D.E. Stevenson. I'm working at building my collection. :)

    The story about the box of books makes me laugh. My mom is a casual gift sort of person. If you get a gift at all it's a bit of a shock. If you get it in a Walmart bag...she went all out! :D Once she went to a quite ritzy shower, not quite gowns and tiaras but definitely a step or two above us. She arrived in the city, shopped the gift registry, made her purchase and arrived at the shower...only to discover that, of course, gift wrap had never crossed her mind. When the moment came she sheepishly handed over her bag. The bride-to-be grinned and announced, "We're brown bag sort of people." That's why we're friends. ;)

    When I share a good book with someone, I always feel like I'm introducing them to a new friend. :)

  13. Thanks so much for the book recommendation. I'm checking now to see if our library system has it.

  14. Your recommendation sent me to two different library systems in an attempt to find this book. I was finally able to order it through Inter library loan from a small library in a small town quite a few miles away. Obviously, she is not a popular author for libraries to stock.

  15. Ummm, not only have I found you (thanks to Anita Yoder, whom I've met, and she's lovely!) on a weekend when I've felt depressed, and you made me laugh, but you're down-to-earth and real (high praise in my book), you understand much that is part of my own culture, AND you are a fellow Miss Buncle fan? Thank you, Dorcas.