books, reviews

Readalong Round-up: The Bloomsbury Girls – Natalie Jenner

Time for another readalong round up post. This was a charming, gentle book set in a fictional bookshop and as you’ll see below, I rather enjoyed it! Thanks to Tandem Collective and Allison & Busby.

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world in Bloomsbury Girls.

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 have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances–most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

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.

My thoughts: I like books set in bookshops and libraries (I used to be a librarian and bookshops are my kryptonite) and this book, with elements of 84 Charing Cross Road (a delightful book if you haven’t read it) was a pleasure to read.

I loved the women of the bookshop – fed up with their stuffy, old-fashioned male colleagues and the hidebound way of doing things, they’re ready to shake things up, with the help of Daphne De Maurier, and several other literary adjacent ladies.

Evie was an interesting figure, working class, but with a Cambridge degree, interested only in cataloguing the books in her search for a mysterious rare edition. She doesn’t seem too involved with the goings on around her, but she’s paying attention. Her gentle, and for the time, highly controversial, relationship with Ash was a delight.

Vivien and Grace were also fascinating. The 1950s were a time of huge social change, especially for women, many of whom had worked through the war, and like Grace, weren’t prepared to down tools and return to their kitchens. Vivien is also a newly emerging type of woman – independent, unmarried and happy with her lot. Although I wish she wouldn’t keep getting involved with awful Alec.

I really enjoyed this book, a real treat for book loving bookshop loitering readers, and hugely fun too.

As with every readalong there were stops through the book for questions – despite my best intentions I didn’t get much up on Instagram so I include them here for your interest. If you read this book, let me know what you think. It’s out now.

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