A lovely look at life in Britain after World War II, Bloomsbury Girls gives us a glimpse at the time between the end of the war and the social upheavals that led to the women’s right movements of later decades. It’s a good story, but not one that engaged me deeply in the various plights of our heroines, though I was glad that they – the heroines – finally do win the day.
The three women who work at the male-operated Bloomsbury Books must govern their behavior as laid out by the “51 rules” management has laid out. All three of them loathe these strictures and want to break free to do their own thing. Their bosses are sexist weasels who want the women silent, or gone.
Grace Perkins is a mother of two boys who’s working to take care of her family financially. Her husband Gordon has severe PTSD from the war and although he cannot work, his hurt pride means he’s angry and resentful that Grace has taken a job. She has ambitions of owning her own bookshop and is trying to balance her own wants with those of her family.
Evie Stone is fresh from Cambridge University, and though she’s brilliant and the first woman ever to receive a sheepskin from the college, she was passed up for a research position, which was given to a less talented male rival. Blessed with exemplary research skills, she finds herself bouncing between high society parties and her life at the Bloomsbury where she’s drawn to the art world – and to the handsome Ash.
Vivien Lowry hails from the upper class, but her plans to become a society wife have been ruined by the death of her fiancé in battle. Now she has to reinvent herself as an entirely different person. She has style, grace and panache enough to do it. Now if only Alec McDonough, who heads the Bloomsbury fiction department, would get out of her way…
Together, Evie, Vivien and Grace will develop a friendship and a warm camaraderie while trying to keep their dreams afloat – and dare to dream that someday they could all take over the Bloomsbury from their sexist overlords and run it in peace and harmony.
Bloomsbury Girls is not overly distinguished in the writing department and doesn’t offer any particularly memorable characters or interesting asides, but it’s a well-researched and decently entertaining diversion for the afternoon. There’s nothing terrible about it, but it won’t stick with you after you close its covers.
I liked Vivien the best of the three women; she’s lively and witty. Grace evolves from put-upon woman to fighter and Evie is the baby of the group, a developing neophyte who figures out who she is, and her journey is fun to follow along with. Jenner makes good use of both her postwar setting and various historical cameos, from Sir Laurence Olivier and Peggy Guggenheim to literary figures like Sonia Blair-Orwell and Daphne Du Maurier. Also perfectly portrayed is the era’s nightmarish sexism, and the institutional garbage our heroines have to deal with to make anything resembling progress in their careers.
And yet the novel lacks that essential spark that makes for engaging historical fiction. Bloomsbury Girls might supply an afternoon’s entertainment, but reading it didn’t leave me thrilled.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier