Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Natalie Jenner's Bloomsbury Girls, set in 1950s London, celebrates bookishness and women's ingenuity

Perfect for historical fiction readers who enjoy literary topics mixed with period-appropriate feminism, Natalie Jenner’s second novel is a charmingly triumphant read. Bloomsbury Girls is more a spin-off than a sequel to her first book, The Jane Austen Society. Knowledge of the first book isn’t necessary (though if you haven’t read it yet, you should!).

Most of the plot takes place within Bloomsbury Books, a century-old establishment located on a cobblestone side street in London’s Bloomsbury district in 1950. Vivien Lowry and Grace Perkins, the shop’s cashier and secretary respectively, are the only female employees. Even though World War II had greatly expanded women’s career horizons, at this shop, “new opportunities for women were still being rationed along with the food.” The general manager, Mr. Herbert Dutton, is famously conservative in his ways and has designed 51 rules for employees to adhere to. Each chapter begins with a different rule, and they’re as amusingly rigid as you’d expect.

author Natalie Jenner
Into this atmosphere comes Evelyn "Evie" Stone, a new Cambridge grad who recently lost a job to a male colleague. Evie is the ultimate introvert, though she has many supporters – in the form of her fellow Jane Austen Society members, men and women who’d come together in the previous book to save their favorite author’s legacy. Evie is about to find new allies in Vivien and Grace. With Mr. Dutton at home recovering from an extended illness, Vivien gets temporarily promoted to Head of Fiction and institutes changes (books by women writers! literary luncheons!) that prove very successful. Newly hired at Bloomsbury Books under unusual circumstances, Evie also has secret motives for being there.

Through her mix of characters, Jenner demonstrates her familiarity with gender, class, and racial differences and the tensions they created. Vivien’s aristocratic fiancĂ© had been killed overseas, and his parents never approved of her. Grace’s two sons are the only high points of her home life, and she’s learned to tamp down her frustrations with her overbearing husband. Though her passion is cataloging books, Evie – to her surprise – develops a rapport with Ash Ramaswamy, an Indian-born entomologist who heads up the science department in Bloomsbury’s basement since he couldn’t find another job in England.

This novel will let you indulge in unabashed bookishness while joyfully seeing the smart plans of the “Bloomsbury girls” come to fruition – with the ready assistance of women from London’s renowned literary circles, including Daphne du Maurier. It takes you back to an era when “old fashioned” often referred to socially acceptable misogyny. However, none of the men, even the annoying fellows, are stereotyped; all have issues to overcome. The story also serves as a good reminder that people should never underestimate the quiet ones.

Bloomsbury Girls is published by St. Martin's Press today; I read it from an Edelweiss e-copy for the author's online book tour.

book tour image

Author bio:

Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website to learn more.



  1. Thank you for this review. The book is definitely one I would love to read - bookishness and all.

  2. The story was right up my alley! Hope you enjoy the read too.

  3. Lovely review, Sarah. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I also enjoyed being in a London bookshop with the 3 main characters. I am looking forward to Jenner's new book as well.

  4. I'm looking forward to hearing more about a new book by the author - I'll definitely put it on my list!