Book Review for “Bloomsbury Girls” by Natalie Jenner.
Summary: “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 [Vivien Lowry, Grace Perkins, and Evie Stone] have plans. … 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.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, UK – London; Other Categories: Novel, Sequel, Mystery.
While this book isn’t actually noted as being part of a series, there’s no doubt that this book is a type of sequel to Jenner’s debut novel, “The Jane Austen Society,” which I enjoyed a great deal. Obviously, that was why I asked for the ARC of this book, although I didn’t know the connection at the time. All I knew was that I liked Jenner’s writing, and her first book made me smile, so all I wanted was another book that I knew would be well written and would make me smile. (These days, you take your small joys wherever you can find them!) And that’s precisely what I got here.
To be specific, not only did we get to catch up with Evie from the previous novel, we find her after finishing her degree in Cambridge, being one of the first females allowed to graduate. When she doesn’t get the research assistant’s job at the university, she has to find another way to make a living. That’s what brings her to Bloomsbury Books in London, where one of the Jane Austen Society members is the general manager. We also get others from the Society included here in cameo roles, but each one gets a very significant part to play. As the summary notes, Jenner also brings in some real historical figures to round everything out, and while I can’t vouch for how accurate these meetings and events might be, none of them felt forced or out of place. Nor did I feel that Jenner was just name dropping, since she gives them all something important to do in the plot.
Now, I should mention that one of the things I didn’t really notice in the previous book, but which cropped up here quite a few times, that is one of my pet peeves. I’m talking about foreshadowing – the mechanic that says something like “little did X know at the time that…”. I’m sorry, but I really dislike foreshadowing because I want to be in the story as it is unfolding, and don’t like to be warned that something that’s just happened will change something in the future. I find that foreshadowing statements disrupt the flow of the text. While they might be somewhat useful when making sure the reader understands the importance of a particular scene or piece of dialogue, it also feels a bit… well… patronizing, to be honest. I mean, if I don’t get it now, surely, the author should assume I’m smart enough to remember it later when the significance comes to light, no?
With that out of the way, I should mention that I truly enjoyed how very different Jenner portrayed these three, very different women. We get the shy, but brilliant Evie to start things off. Then we get the very proud, and creative Vivian. Both of these two women struggle between wanting one thing, and society pushing back on them, because of the times in which they lived. Had either of these two been our contemporaries, I’m sure that Evie would have gone on to be a full-tenured professor, and Vivian would be running a successful, mid-sized publishing house. Grace is our semi-outlier here – the downtrodden woman, trapped by circumstance and financial strife, who would probably still have a troubled marriage if she lived today. In fact, the bravery she shows here was ahead of her time, and even today, many women wouldn’t be able to muster that type of courage. Frankly, she was my favorite of the three, but I have warm, soft spots for all of them.
When it comes down to the bottom line, I have to reiterate from my opening here, and say that I was looking for a book that would make me smile, and that’s exactly what I got! Okay, so I didn’t cry (but I did get a tiny lump in my throat with the last line of the book), and I didn’t laugh out loud, but not every book can evoke either, or both of those truly strong emotions. This is why I’ll warmly recommend this book to readers who are looking for a good story about strong women in an historical setting. I’m certain this will be as popular as Jenner’s debut novel, and I’ll give it a hearty four and a half stars out of five.
St. Martin’s Press (US) and Allison & Busby (UK) released “Bloomsbury Girls” by Natalie Jenner on May 17, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.