Friday, June 30, 2017

Miss Buncle Married

Miss Buncle Married
by D.E. Stevenson

In this charming follow-up to Miss Buncle's Book, readers will follow Barbara Buncle's journey into married life in a new town filled with fascinating neighbors...who may become the subjects of Barbara's next novel! Miss Buncle may have settled down, but she's already discovered that married life has done nothing to prevent her from getting into humorous mix-ups and hilarious hijinx. Readers will continue to fall in love with Barbara as she hilariously navigates an exciting new beginning.

My Reaction (with SPOILERS):
Though the first book in this series, Miss Buncle's Book, was not remotely scintillating, I enjoyed it enough to give four out of five stars.  It was an overall pleasant reading experience.  Unfortunately, this sequel merits something more like 2.5 stars (though I may round up to 3).

The problem is that it simply doesn't feel fully developed.  The characters don't captivate, the plot (what little of it there is) drags its feet, and too much of the supposed humor falls flat.

There are a few bright spots.  For some reason, I loved the part about finding and fixing up the house, though I'm sure that was a dull section for many.  The neighbor's children were probably the most readable characters in the book-- more readable than Barbara herself, for that matter.  They were usually rather annoying, but at least they were interesting!

Sadly, those few bright spots couldn't hope to illuminate the whole novel, and I was glad to reach the last page.


The last few pages particularly irked me.  I could sense that particular plot development coming, though I hoped I'd be proven wrong.  As another reviewer has put it, the author solves the problem of Barbara's books agitating her neighbors by having her not write any more books.  ...Okay-- except, she also wants us to believe that Barbara apparently loves writing her books, so it's not exactly a satisfying conclusion.

Actually, I thought I remembered from the first book that Barbara writes out of necessity rather than a love of the craft.  She certainly starts writing her first book merely as a way to make some much-needed money.  However, in this book, she waxes poetic (by Barbara's standards) on the incomparable thrill of the creative hunt-- only to decide by the end of the book that she's done with writing.  Because she's pregnant, which apparently means that she'll be too busy to write ever again for as long as she lives.

Why try to make us believe that Barbara finds some exquisite joy in her writing, only to have her give it up by the end of the book?  That's just sad.  Women can have children and still write-- even if they may take breaks during the busiest years.  The author herself did so!  I get the impression that Stevenson simply couldn't come up with a cogent solution to Barbara's problem (her lack of imagination and her inability to write a book without alienating the entire community), so she stuck us with a lame excuse.

Even more aggravating are Barbara's thoughts on marriage and pregnancy...

""I'm going to do something much, much cleverer,' she repeated.  'Anybody could write a book.  I'm going to have a baby.'"  (Some might argue it's the other way 'round, Barb... After all, far more people have babies than write books!)

"She looked back and saw the faults and failings in that ignorant, gauche spinster, Barbara Buncle, and felt her superiority in seeing them so clearly.  She looked back, smugly and patronizingly, upon her virgin self.  She was now one of the vast regiment of Married Women, no longer barred from their councils by the stigma of virginity."  (...Ugh.  How perfectly obnoxious.)

"...a small young creature which would be utterly and absolutely dependent upon her, a new human being to cherish and control."  (Control?  ...Oh-kaaaaay....)

Anyway, I'm glad to be done, and at this point, I don't know if I'll ever feel like reading the next book in the series.  ...Probably not; based on reviews, I doubt it would be an enjoyable experience.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Provincial Lady in Wartime

The Provincial Lady in Wartime
by E.M. Delafield

My Blurb:
In this, the final of the Provincial Lady's amusing diary-format publications, England has just entered World War II.  Popular topics of discussion include gas masks, evacuees from London, fuel rationing, blackout, and speculations as to how long the war might last.  The Provincial Lady is keen to contribute to the war effort, but the best she can do for the moment is volunteer for Canteen service... (Covers only the period of the Phoney War and was published in 1940.)

My Reaction:
(This was a shared read-aloud.)

Though I am fond of the Provincial Lady, I'd recommend this primarily for two groups of readers-- serious P.L. fans/completists and those interested in firsthand accounts of the English home front during the early part of WWII.  It's about on par with The Provincial Lady in America, with neither being as good as the first two books in the series.  There's a good deal of repetition, and nothing much happens.  It has its amusing moments, but they seem fewer than I remember from the first book or two.

That said, from a historical point of view, it's fascinating to get a "real-time" glimpse into what people were thinking, saying, and doing during the first few months of WWII, when they were essentially marking time, waiting for the war to begin in earnest.  Obviously, they had no way of knowing what the future held-- something that is easy to gloss over when reading a traditional, textbook history, always aware of the eventual outcome.  Though the book keeps a fairly light, humorous tone, the P.L. and her friends and family must have been under a terrible burden of stress and worry.  (I was saddened to learn from another person's review that the author's life took a tragic turn not long after this was published; she lost her son, was taken ill, and didn't live to see the end of the war.)

So-- This was well worth reading, but I imagine that if I ever feel like a re-read, I'll content myself with the first two!