Books·First Look

Natalie Jenner's new novel Bloomsbury Girls is a post-war tale of love, goals & dreams — read an excerpt now

Natalie Jenner, bestselling Canadian author of The Jane Austen Society, is publishing a new literary-themed historical novel, Bloomsbury Girls, on May 17, 2022.

See the cover and read an excerpt! Bloomsbury Girls will be available on May 17, 2022.

Bloomsbury Girls is a book by Natalie Jenner. (Sarah Sims)

Bloomsbury Girls is the latest book from bestselling Canadian novelist Natalie Jenner. 

Set in post-war London, Bloomsbury Girls is a "heartwarming" novel involving a century-old bookstore and three women who work there — Vivien Lowry, Grace Perkins and Evie Stone. 

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change. The three women meet various literary figures — including Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Peggy Guggenheim and more — and face love, relationships and patriarchal challenges as they strive to make their respective dreams come true and make their mark in a fast-changing world. 

Canadian author Natalie Jenner is a former lawyer and independent bookshop owner who is currently based in Oakville, Ont.

Her debut book, The Jane Austen Society was a bestselling novel about unexpected community, and the quiet triumph and tragedies of every day life in post-Second World War Britain. 

The bestselling The Jane Austen Society was a 2020 nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards in both the historical fiction and debut novel categories. 

Bloomsbury Girls will be available on May 17, 2022.

You can read an excerpt from Bloomsbury Girls below.


The Tyrant was Alec McDonough, a bachelor in his early thirties who ran the New Books, Fiction & Art Department on the ground floor of Bloomsbury Books. He had read literature and fine art at the University of Bristol and been planning on a career in something big — Vivien accused him of wanting to run a small colony — when the war had intervened. Following his honourable discharge in 1945, Alec had joined the shop on the exact same day as Vivien. "By an hour ahead. Like a dominant twin," she would quip whenever Alec was rewarded with anything first.

From the start Alec and Vivien were rivals, and not just for increasing control of the fiction floor. Every editor that wandered in, every literary guest speaker, was a chance for them to have access to the powers that be in the publishing industry. 

From the start Alec and Vivien were rivals, and not just for increasing control of the fiction floor.

As two secretly aspiring writers, they had each come to London and taken the position at Bloomsbury Books for this reason. But they were also both savvy enough to know that the men in charge — from the rigid Mr. Dutton and then-head-of-fiction Graham Kingsley, to the restless Frank Allen and crusty Master Mariner Scott — were whom they first needed to please. Alec had a clear and distinct advantage when it came to that. Between the tales of wartime service, shared grammar schools, and past cricket-match victories, Vivien grew quickly dismayed at her own possibility for promotion.

Sure enough, within weeks Alec had quickly entrenched himself with both the long-standing general manager, Herbert Dutton, and his right-hand man, Frank Allen. By 1948, upon the retirement of Graham Kingsley, Alec had ascended to the post of head of fiction, and within the year had added new books and art to his oversight — an achievement which Vivien still referred to as the Annexation. 

Between the tales of wartime service, shared grammar schools, and past cricket-match victories, Vivien grew quickly dismayed at her own possibility for promotion.

She had been first to call him the Tyrant; he called her nothing at all. Vivien's issues with Alec ranged from the titles they stocked on the shelves, to his preference for booking events exclusively with male authors who had served in war. With her own degree in literature from Durham (Cambridge, her dream university, still refusing in 1941 to graduate women), Vivien had rigorously informed views on the types of books the fiction department should carry. Not surprisingly, Alec disputed these views.

"But he doesn't even read women," Vivien would bemoan to Grace, who would nod back in sympathy while trying to remember her grocery list before the bus journey home. "I mean, what — one Jane Austen on the shelves? No Katherine Mansfield. No Porter. I mean, I read that Salinger story in The New Yorker he keeps going on about: shell-shocked soldiers and children all over the place, and I don't see what's so masculine about that."

Unlike Vivien, Grace did not have much time for personal reading, an irony her husband often pointed out. But Grace did not work at the shop for the books. She worked there because the bus journey into Bloomsbury took only twenty minutes, she could drop the children off at school on the way, and she could take the shop newspapers home at the end of the day. Grace had been the one to suggest that they also carry import magazines, in particular The New Yorker. Being so close to the British Museum and the theatre district, Bloomsbury Books received its share of wealthy American tourists. Grace was convinced that such touches from home would increase their time spent browsing, along with jazz music on the wireless by the front cash, one of many ideas that Mr. Dutton was still managing to resist.

Unlike Vivien, Grace did not have much time for personal reading, an irony her husband often pointed out. But Grace did not work at the shop for the books.

Vivien and Alec had manned the ground floor of the shop together for over four years, circling each other within the front cash counter like wary lions inside a very small coliseum. The square, enclosed counter had been placed in the centre of the fiction department in an effort to contain an old electrical outlet box protruding from the floor. Mr. Dutton could not look at this eyesore without seeing a customer lawsuit for damages caused by accidental tripping. Upon his promotion to general manager in the 1930s, Dutton had immediately ordained that the front cash area be relocated and built around the box.

This configuration had turned out to be of great benefit to the staff. One could always spot a customer coming from any direction, prepare the appropriate response to expressions ranging from confused to hostile, and even catch the surreptitious slip of an unpurchased book into a handbag. Other bookshops had taken note of Bloomsbury Books' ground-floor design and started refurbishing their own.

The entire neighbourhood was, in this way, full of spies. Grace and Vivien were not the only two bookstore employees out and about, checking on other stores' window displays. London was starting to boom again, after five long years of post war rationing and recovery, and new bookshops were popping up all over. Bloomsbury was home to the British Museum, the University of London, and many famous authors past and present, including the prewar circle of Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. This made the district a particularly ideal location for readers, authors, and customers alike.

And so, it was here, on a lightly snowing day on the second of January, 1950, that a young Evie Stone arrived, Mr. Allen's trading card in one pocket, and a one-way train ticket to London in the other. 


Excerpted from Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner. Copyright © 2022 Natalie Jenner. Published by St. Martin's Press, a division of St. Martin's Publishing Group. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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