Bloomsbury Girls is the follow-up to Natalie Jenner’s 2020 novel, The Jane Austen Society. This book reads as a stand-alone and it is not necessary to read the first one. Jenner states in the author’s notes that she was inspired by three things: the movie 84 Charing Cross Road, a blog about female literary friendship, and an article about Sunwise Turn, one of the first bookstores in America to be owned and operated by women. These influences shine through the story.
The setting is a 100-year-old bookstore in London that is owned by the wealthy, good-natured, and recently divorced Jeremy Baskin, the 11th Earl Baskin. It is managed by a very old-fashioned Herbert Dutton, who has a list of 51 rules the employees must abide by. The novel primarily focuses on the three female employees, all of whom work there for different reasons. The beautiful Vivien Lowry is an aspiring writer and resentful over the inequality at work. She has an unhealthy competition with a male coworker, Alec McDonough; Evelyn Stone, feels trapped by the male-dominated educational system that forced her out of Cambridge; and Grace Perkins is in an unhappy marriage and must work to support her family. There are also chapters that deal with the males and their relationships with the women and each other, so the book isn’t entirely about the Bloomsbury Girls.
While I enjoyed this charming story, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to others for three reasons. I have recently read two other books (Lessons in Chemistry and The Book Woman’s Daughter) about 1950s women who suffered workplace inequality. I am now officially tired of this theme. Secondly, as my Goodreads friend, Louise, pointed out, the title designated the women as “girls”. Since this is a book about equality, the word “girls” seems particularly demeaning. Finally, The author chooses to use real-life people including Peggy Guggenheim, Ellen Doubleday, Daphne Du Maurier (Lady Browning), and Sonia Brownwell (George Orwell’s wife). I found this plot device to be slightly unbelievable and unnecessary.
3-stars. Thank you to #Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for my advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest opinion.