This book only came out this last May and I bought it recently on impulse at Costco, after hearing buzz about it through my book connections. I did not read the prior book, the Jane Austen Society, which a lot of people liked, and even though this is a continuation of that story, this one worked fine for me as a stand alone book. That being said, however, I hope there will be a sequel!
Bloomsbury Girls takes place in 1950 in the Bloomsbury section of London, when women were overlooked professionally, and the only women that had any freedom were those that were independently wealthy. This book features several women in both categories, including fictional ones that work in a bookshop, and famous real ones like Peggy Guggenheim, Ellen Doubleday, and Daphne du Maurier. I appreciated the backstory on all of them, as well as their motives to improve things for women in general.
In this character driven novel, there is much about writing, and the struggle of women writers in particular. Here are some bits from the book that I flagged for you:
- “The key, my dear, just so you know, is to decorate English, eat Italian, and dress French.”
- “Ash seemed bemused by Evie’s preoccupation with what he called ‘stories,’as if the contents of the books were merely tales to pass the time, rather than the most direct and lasting evidence of what the human species had felt and thought throughout the ages.”
- “All great writing comes from a desire to escape, but you have to know what you are escaping to. The audience will follow anything you do if they are confident you know where you are going.”
- “Everything in life is either a warning or a cause.”
- “Writing for an audience required not only forgetting oneself, but getting out of one’s way, so that there was both entertainment and emotional resonance for others.”
- “You think your apology–your word– is enough. Not your actions. That’s pride.”
- “A friend… used to say it’s best in life to pretend to have a crystal ball’n’ try to picture’n it how everything ahead of you that could go well has done so. And how the bad stuff you kept worrying ’bout happening never did. Right now, you don’t know for sure that things won’t get better.”
I liked how each chapter began with one of the 51 rules of the bookshop, and you see how each one was usually broken as the story unravels. It was fun that after the women had their way, there were far fewer rules, and the ones they had were about consideration.
If I overlook the fact that the title refers to “girls” instead of women, and that the figures in the cover art do not dress like the characters in the book, my only criticism of this book was– specially toward the end– the author relied on too much on telling rather than showing. Because of that I only give this fun and satisfying book four stars. I was happy to read it and delighted to find out how it ended. Especially if you are a woman, you may feel the same way.