Short on cash, Barbara Buncle decides the easiest way to make some money is by writing a book. She uses her friends and neighbours as characters in her story, Disturber of the Peace, making them behave exactly they way she would have them. A publisher loves the book and before she knows it she has a hit on her hands.
The people of Silverstream aren’t so happy about Disturber of the Peace (it disturbs their peace!). They see themselves in the characters even though the town is the fictional village of Copperfield and the author is the mysterious John Smith, an obvious nom de plume. The hot heads of the town, whose alter egos have less than flattering appearances in the book, are out for blood, determined to smoke John Smith out from among them. Not a one imagines the unassuming Barbara Buncle could be the writer. Even she can’t predict what consequences her words will have on the residents of Silverstream.
Miss Buncle’s Book by D. E. Stevenson is a light and entertaining read. It’s the cure for any heavy reading (say like Les Miserables) you might have been doing. It runs along the same lines as Cold Comfort Farm: small village of odd characters and the quirky girl who changes their lives.
The story alternates between the points of view of Barbara and the various people of the village: Mrs Walker, Mrs Featherstone-Hogg, Colonel Weatherhead, etc. Depending on how they were portrayed in Barbara’s book determines how they react. Some people take it badly and plot revenge. Stevenson could have gone all Shirley Jackson because these people are kind of bonkers and, in fact, what they do plot for the person they believe is John Smith is hair raising enough. Of course, it all turns out fine but I think it would have been a less scary situation in the 1930s than it appears now. I don’t know if an author could get away with such a thing in a light-hearted book today.
It bothered me that no one thought Barbara was very bright, including her publisher. Barbara might be naive but she’s far from stupid. She has the ability to not only see people as they are but see into their true hearts. Because of this, the villagers change their lives. What they see of their characters causes them to really look at themselves and see their honest desires. That takes insight! Also, and I hope I’m not giving too much away, but the pairing up of couples at the end annoyed me. It’s as if Stevenson knew people would want that and did it just because. One character (an important one), gets the shaft in the romance department and really just gets a man shoved at her. I wanted a little more from that storyline.
Miss Buncle’s Book is a feel good story and a cure for what ails you.
Thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy.