Bloomsbury Girls – Natalie Jenner

NOTE: I listened to the very well produced and read audio version of this, so do not have the written word to remind me of names or spellings. Did my best. Enjoy this book with many a smile and some moments of reflection!

This is a lovely story capturing post-war London in 1950 and a new era of how women were finding their voices and wings in changing times. Bloomsbury Books is run by men but Jenner largely focuses on the three women who work there. Lord Baskin owns the store, as an ancestor won it in a card game a hundred years ago. It doesn’t make much money, but he is aware that several of his employees rely on the income in these uncertain times. Still, he thinks about its future and what to do with this store, where he personally worked for a time.Reading Bloomsbury Girls like watching one of those television shows with a cast that is collaborative and you come to know and understand every character. It includes cameos of well known literary celebrities of the era, mostly women.

Evie Stone finished with a first at Cambridge but was cut out of a research position by a less worthy man. She intentionally seeks a job at Bloomsbury Books in London, to catalog and organize their disheveled rare books section. She has another motive that becomes huge as the book goes on. It is, to me a delicious concept and creates some intrigue and moral dilemmas along the way. Vivian and Alec work in fiction but he got the management job and she is stuck at the cash counter, bursting with ambition and resentment. We know that they both are aspiring writers.. Grace, the “secretary” to the manager is a mother of two in a difficult marriage. Her husband came back from WWII mentally ill and is emotionally abusive.

The manager of Bloomsbury Books has written and expects all to abide by a list of 51 rules. As you can imagine, for anyone to come up with 51 rules for a bookstore with a total of seven employees, many of them are absurd and they add humor as well as drama throughout. One rule opens each chapter as the plot develops, with various relationships that suggest romance is in the air, secrets that only the reader knows and pop up appearances by other characters from The Jane Austen Society (admission: I did not read this but will!). However this is a stand alone book so feel free to read it the two novels out of order.

Throughout, Jenner touches gently but clearly on bias against people from India in London; the danger of being homosexual in 1950s England; how women of means could “get away” with independent behavior that would be far too dangerous for lower class women; the abysmal economy of post-war Great Britain; the losses still painful and more. Some of the romance is improbable and so are several friendships but who cares? The best scene in the book is one we giggle and cheer through and requires major suspension of disbelief. Very enjoyable. Jenner writes so well she makes me smile at all the connections and relationships and she is a satisfying writer, tying up each loose end neatly with a sense of humor throughout but also a sense of justice.

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