In Praise of the New 

Louise Pfanner shares her latest discoveries.

October 2019

 - Wednesday, October 09, 2019
Miss Barbara Buncle lives a quiet life in her beloved village, Silverstream; but one day she realises that she needs to earn some money—her dividends aren’t what they used to be—so she decides to write a book. Writing under the pseudonym of John Smith, and wisely thinking she needs to write about what she knows, she sets her novel in a quiet English village, genteelly populated with people very similar to her own. Written in 1934, D E Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book (published by my favourite publisher of forgotten women authors, Persephone Press), depicts a very different time—a vanished way of life. Miss Buncle’s book is a bestseller, and explodes in the village like a well aimed bomb, insulting most of the population, and amusing just a few of them. It’s vital the author is never uncovered, but this does not seem to be a problem—Miss Buncle does have friends, but not a single one of them suspects the mystery author could be her.

Amusing and quite sincere, Miss Buncle’s Book reminds me of other books set in quiet little hamlets from another time: Margahrita Laski’s The Village (1952), E F Benson’s Lucia books (1920s and 30s), and Gabriel Chevalier’s wonderful Clochemerle (1934). But Miss Buncle is a stand out—there is something very endearing and extremely amusing about a lady writer, quiet as a mouse, who wears dreadful skirts and bad hats, setting a cat among the pigeons, with her deathless prose.

Fierce Bad Rabbits by Clare Pollard is another engaging book. Pollard’s writes about children’s picture books with the intelligence and breadth of knowledge of an academic, but with all the warmth and accessibility of a contemporary poet and playwright—which she is. When Pollard had a baby she fell headlong down the rabbit hole of picture books, a terrain she was familiar with from her own childhood. She writes about classic books,  and newer ones, with amazing insight and pertinent anecdotes: what she has to say about Beatrix Potter’s childhood, Kate Greenaway and her relationship with John Ruskin, de Brunhoff’s elegant elephants, and David McKee’s multi-coloured pachyderm, are particularly memorable. I have read a lot of texts about most of the books she discusses, but I learned a lot more from this book. Everything she writes feel fresh and interesting, her voice is really engaging—making you want to be part of the conversation. Pollard weaves her own experience through the narrative in a loving tribute to both her parents (both readers), as well as to her own son, Gruff. To write a book about children’s books for academics and teachers is one thing, but to write a book like this is another. Even if you think children’s picture books have limited appeal and significance, you might like to try this book. It opens the door into the endlessly fascinating realm of picture books. And for once, you can judge a book by its cover, it’s fabulous! Louise