Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Fun and interesting women-in-history story with some great themes and a few downfalls. If you enjoy old bookstores, feisty women, and historical cameos you’ll likely enjoy this story. Likely not a re-read candidate, but would go with the print version if I did.

Read by Juliet Stevenson and set in post-WWII London in the opening days of 1950, Bloomsbury Girls is a nice fit if you are looking for some throwback women’s fiction that is heavily weighted towards character connection and a serious but somehow light and meandering plot.

Stevenson’s narration in the descriptive portions is melodic, allowing you to envision the lives of the women vividly, but the same flow is missing when she shifts into dialogue. Some character voices are inconsistent and others, particularly Vivien, feel flat and emotionless. For a lead character who was portrayed as often angry and battling through how to express so much emotion, it is confusing to hear her with so little depth.

Vivien, Grace, and Evie are the Bloomsbury Girls, the female employees of a 100-year-old London bookshop where the rules and patriarchal attitudes are as old as the shop itself. Vivien’s aristocratic fiancee was killed in WWII, leaving her to make her way as a “modern” single woman. Grace is an unhappily married mother of two, and her family’s financial support. Evie is a Cambridge graduate trying to find her break after being passed over by a man.

Together the women fight against societal constraints of the 1950s using their wits, fortuitous events, and well-timed new friendships to show the world they deserve respect and opportunity. The roles of well-known players in publishing and literature work well to highlight the literary world of that time, as well as the obstacles faced by anyone who was different or female. Vivien is strong and imperfect, and watching Grace’s resolve and awareness grow is made more meaningful by its understated, dare I say it, grace. Evie is the female miss; she comes across as too young and naive for a character who was supposed to have been one of the first female Cambridge grads (was she like that in The Jane Austen Society?).

Saying this has a lighter plot feels counterintuitive given the cornerstone subjects of sexism and racism. These are very well done, there just isn’t enough oomph in the first 3/4 of the book to feel like the story is progressing beyond just making points. The first quarter introduces the characters in a nice flow, but the story stalls and risks losing its grip for the middle half of the book. The last quarter of the book is a fabulous connector of all the earlier webs though, and make this story worth pushing on through the midpoint slowdown.

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for an ARC in exchange for my honest review

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