The Bookseller’s Secret: A Novel of Nancy Mitford and WWII

Written by Michelle Gable
Review by Ann Chamberlin

Scenes switch evenly between Katie, a self-doubting American writer who takes a break in London at Christmastime; and the world of Nancy Mitford, her fascinatingly fascist/communist family, and the British literary world during the Blitz.  Mitford is likewise doubting herself and providing hints of an unpublished manuscript hidden in the shop—which Katie and love interests hunt for.  The real-life book shop and surrounding neighborhood are drawn from Gable’s personal experience.

World War II and booksellers with hidden pages are perpetual favorites for readers of historical fiction.  Our modern heroine Katie, conveniently enough, wrote her thesis on Nancy Mitford, so when thesis-like details get dumped in dialogue instead of action and intrigue, we may forgive it.  The best read, however, comes in the author’s note at the end, which offers glimpses of events that would have, to my taste, been more engaging.  Indeed, what I came to these pages hoping for. Has the United States’ political divide become so serious that we must skate over such primal issues when they present themselves in one delightfully eccentric British family, in favor of some novelist’s angst in the interest of an offend-no-one bestseller?

This may be the perfect summer poolside read if you’re looking for the escape of a London Blitz whittled down to told, not shown, events that don’t matter so much.