Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Harper Collins for my review copy.
About the Book
In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.
Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.
Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…
Format: Paperback (400 pages) Publisher: Graydon House
Publication date: 11th November 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Dual Time
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Alternating between London in the present day and during World War 2, the book is told from the point of view of American author, Katie Cabot, in London to visit her friend Jojo, and Nancy Mitford, at the time the author of three not very successful novels.
Initially, I wasn’t sure if the dual timeline structure would work but as the book progressed I enjoyed how more and more paralells between the two women emerged. For example, both are struggling to come up with ideas for their next book, are either in or trying to move on from unsuccessful relationships and have experienced health issues. The inclusion of the present day timeline and Katie’s curiosity about the possibility of discovering a lost manuscript by Nancy Mitford allows the author to drip-feed into the story details about Nancy’s life, her wartime activities, her eccentric childhood and, in particular, her infamous sisters.
What links the two women is Heywood Hill bookshop, where Nancy worked during the war and which Katie visits on the recommendation of her friend. A neat touch is the similarity between the women’s first impressions of the bookshop. Katie notes its ‘dusty chandeliers, the cob-webbed tinged corners and nooks’ whilst Nancy describes its ‘cluttered shelves, cob-webbed corners, and teetering stacks of books’. (I wonder if it is purely coincidence that Katie’s most successful novel, and the only one stocked by the Heywood Hill bookshop, is called A Paris Affair and the author’s first book was entitled A Paris Apartment?)
I particularly enjoyed the sections written from Nancy’s point of view which are lively and gay, and seem very much Nancy in style. I loved her witty repartee with her friends and her waspish comments about other authors. For example, Ernest Hemingway is dismissed as ‘the biggest bore on earth’ and Evelyn Waugh, although supposedly a friend, as ‘a workaday, bloated drunk in a bowler hat’. The banter between Nancy and her friends is mirrored in Katie’s jokey conversations with the man she meets in the bookshop and who, she discovers, shares her own interest in Nancy Mitford’s wartime experiences. You may not be completely surprised that initially Katie does not particularly take to the gentleman concerned. However, as we learned from Pride and Prejudice, first impressions can be deceptive. Talking of romance (potential or actual), I found the way the author describes Nancy’s relationship with her French Colonel especially touching.
As Katie struggles to come up with an idea for her next book (resisting everyone’s suggestion that she simply write a sequel to A Paris Affair), she is reassured that ‘Every writer struggles, even the late, great Nancy Mitford’. As we now know, Nancy did finally overcome that struggle and write her most famous novel, The Pursuit of Love (to which she did write a sequel, Love in a Cold Climate).
I really enjoyed The Bookseller’s Secret and it has definitely made me want to read more of Nancy Mitford’s books, and to re-read The Pursuit of Love.
In three words: Absorbing, lively, engaging
About the Author
Michelle Gable is the New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment, I’ll See You in Paris, The Book of Summer, and The Summer I Met Jack. She attended the College of William & Mary, where she majored in accounting, and spent twenty years working in finance before becoming a full-time writer.
She grew up in San Diego and lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California with her husband and to daughters.