Monday, April 11, 2016

The 1938 Club: The Baker's Daughter by D. E. Stevenson

I was really struggling to find a book to read for The 1938 Club Readalong, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. It seemed I'd read all the best books already (including the P. G. Wodehouse classic The Code of the Woosters, which I finished just days before the readalong was announced). Nonetheless, the librarian in me refused to give up and I kept hunting; I finally and came up with not one but three books from 1938 that I wanted to read. 

The first book I read was The Baker's Daughter by D. E. Stevenson. I'm thrilled that Sourcebooks is reprinting her works, I just wish they would published more than two a year! The Baker's Daughter just came out in January, (though I was actually able to get my hands on a different edition from ILL, as I just can't bear to buy another book right now). Anyway, alight charming book by Stevenson was just the thing.

The setup: set in the 1930s, Sue Pringle is in her early 20s, living with her stepmother, younger brother, and curmudgeonly father, the baker, in a small town in Scotland. Her late mother's parents own a successful grocery shop and would love for Sue to come and live with them, as she doesn't much get along with her stepmother. One day, while visiting her grandmother at the shop, a customer has an unusual request -- not just groceries, but an actual cook. The customer is the Mrs. Darnay, wife of an artist who's just left glamorous London rented a cottage so he can paint in the wilds of Scotland. Sue, bored with her dull life, is intrigued by the idea of an artist, jumps at the chance and agrees to take on the job. After Mrs. Darnay suddenly does a runner back to London, Sue takes pity on Mr. Darnay, and stays on to keep house for him and keep him from starving, as he's so absorbed in his work. Naturally, one thing leads to another, and Sue finds herself falling in love with the reclusive artist. 

This was a quick, light read, and if you've read Miss Buncle's Book or any of Stevenson's other novels, you'll find few surprises here. It's a charming little novel with a fairly predictable outcome, though there were some interesting twists along the way. I liked the characters, especially Sue's grandparents, and I liked how Stevenson really seemed to appreciate Scotland, with nice descriptions of the scenery. She also gave the characters depth and color without making them too stereotypical.

However, there was an attempt at one plot twist that I thought was really unnecessary, and a weird anti-Semitic remark that kind of came out of left field, with a reference to Hitler. I'm not sure if Stevenson was criticizing what was happening politically in the late 1930s, but it seemed really incongruous to the storyline. Also, the ending was kind of abrupt. But overall, it was a very enjoyable book and a perfect comfort read if you like middlebrow women's fiction from that time period. 

There are two other Stevenson reprints by Sourcebooks I haven't read yet, Celia's House and The Listening Valley. My library actually owns both of them but I'm rather torn, I don't know if I should read them now for free or read up more of my TBR shelves now and save those for later, since I can actually buy them from Sourcebooks later. Bloggers, have you read any other books by D. E. Stevenson? Which do you recommend? And are you enjoying The 1938 Club?


  1. Sometimes predictable and fun is perfect, isn't it? Thanks for taking part in the 1938 Club!

  2. This sounds delightful. And yay, it's set in Scotland! I have Miss Buncle's Book on hold at my library; I'll have to see if they have this one available, too. :)

  3. I love these Sourcebooks reprints and I'm glad my library seems to be collecting them! I've read The Four Graces and The Young Clementina, but so far my favorites are still Miss Buncle's Book and Miss Buncle Married.

  4. I'd say read for free now knowing that you can buy later if you love them, though my experience with DE Stevenson is that one read is often enough. As for the 1938 club - I love it. I think choosing a year is an inspired way of doing these things.

  5. Listening Valley is one of my favorite D.E.Stevenson's of all! So even though it comes after, and references, events in Celia's House, I'd read it first. I was lucky and a local library passed all its Stevenson books to the library book sale just after I discovered her.