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Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner
Historical fiction

Bloomsbury Girls

by Natalie Jenner

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Quick take

When three British women challenge the expectations society has for them post-WWII, amazing stories begin to bloom.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FemaleFriendship

    Female friendships

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_International

    International

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Real-life-characters

    Real-life characters

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_BookAboutBooks

    Book about books

Synopsis

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare bookstore 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 fiancé 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.

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Why I love it

When I look at the people who fill my life, I feel the truth of the adage that many people walk through your life but only true friends leave footprints in your heart. Yet friendships often seem random. You’re assigned adjoining desks in sixth grade or rooms in college. You strike up a conversation at a conference, or—as one of my literary friendships began—in a ladies’ room. Bloomsbury Girls is about many things, but at its core are three women who meet by just such happenstance, at a bookstore.

Bloomsbury Books is one of those utterly charming shops we all love: old-fashioned. New books, but also rare ones. Unchanged for a hundred years. And in London! In Bloomsbury, its intellectual and literary center, home to the British Museum, universities, and Woolf, Forster, Darwin, Dickens, and du Maurier. This store has long been run by men, but by 1950, three “shopgirls” do the actual work: Vivien, an aspiring writer still grieving the loss of her fiancé; Evie, among the first women graduates from Cambridge and a rare book expert; and the manager’s secretary, Grace. In that—working women finding their way in a world that expects women to be content with home and family—Bloomsbury Girls finds real depth, exploring what it means to be a woman of ambition.

These three come to know each other only gradually, as they come to know themselves better. Jenner does a lovely job of including us in their circle. You’ll cheer at the story’s uplifting ending. And there are definitely footsteps here.

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