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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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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Bloomsbury Girls.
Bloomsbury Girls

PROLOGUE

Cambridge, England

December 19, 1949

Evie Stone sat alone in her tiny bedsitter at the north end of Castle Street, as far from the colleges as a student could live and still be keeping term at Cambridge. But Evie was no longer a student—she remained at the university on borrowed time. The next forty minutes would decide how much she had left.

The room’s solitary window was cracked open to the cool December air, which was about to vibrate with the sound of Great St Mary’s striking two o’clock from precisely three miles away. The interview with Senior Fellow Christenson was for twenty minutes past that—exactly as long as it would take her to arrive at Jesus College. Evie always had her walks perfectly timed.

Christenson scheduled his appointments for twenty minutes past the hour, one of many famous eccentricities for which he was known. The students jokingly referred to this arrangement as CMT or Christenson Mean Time. Resounding bells of St Mary’s or not, Evie could have guessed the exact minute almost down to the second. She had honed this skill as a servant girl at the Chawton Great House, where for two years she had secretly catalogued the family library. Without the benefit of a clock, she had passed hours every night going through all 2,375 books, page by page. Ata clear two-foot distance, Evie could now eyeball anything from a Gutenberg-era tome to a carbon-copy document and not only predict how long it would take her to summarize the contents but to quickly skim each page as well. These were skills that she kept to herself. She had long known the value in being underestimated.

The male faculty around her only knew Evelyn Stone as a quiet, unassuming, but startlingly forthright member of the first entry class of women to be permitted to earn a degree from Cambridge. After three years of punishing studies at the all-female Girton College, Evie had been awarded first-class honours for her efforts, which included a lengthy paper on the Austen contemporary Madame de Staël, and become one of the first female graduates in the eight-hundred-year history of the university.

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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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Member ratings (1,733)

  • Sammi C.

    Portland, IN

    I’m really enjoying this historical fiction. They make you feel happy and cheery by the end. Definitely worth checking out. I’m passing this one on to my grandma because it’s her kind of story!

  • Jessica W.

    Windham, NH

    Another huggable book by Natalie Jenner! I did not want this beautiful post WWII book to end. Lovable characters, female friendship, tea, feminism, a British bookshop…so many things I love!Perfection!

  • Michelle W.

    Elko, NV

    A love story to anyone wanting to run a bookstore. Strong women in a world that doesn’t see them as valuable or important. A bit slow to start but you can’t help but root for the Bloomsbury Girls.

  • Lynnette S.

    Greensboro, GA

    This author wins again! This is writing at its best. The women are so smart and savvy. Including the famous women from the past added such an entertaining quality to the story. Evie was some character

  • Roberta S.

    Milwaukee, WI

    Spectacular, historical view into 3 women pushing old fashioned constraints of the 1950's that led to life at a revered bookstore ruled by men. Literary excitement and dreams remain just out of reach.

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