Book Review: Business As Usual

“Sir, In reply to your advertisement of to-day’s date offering a ‘Lucrative Position to a Woman of Personality’, I beg to apply for the post in question.”

Business As Usual, by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford

Published in 1933, “Business as Usual” is a novel in letters by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford. It follows the adventures of Edinburgh native Hilary Fane – a nicely brought up girl with an Oxbridge education, who is happily engaged to her surgeon fiancé Basil Rainford. But Hilary is determined to experience life before settling down to marriage, and decides that she wants to live for a year in London earning her own living.

What follows is a collection of letters, memos and notes documenting Hilary’s progress, trials and tribulations as she seeks gainful employment, and lands a job at Everyman’s Stores. The letters are mainly from Hilary herself, but also include entries from others, including her colleagues at Everyman’s. And an interesting feature of the book is not only the people we hear from, but also those that we don’t – in particular, we don’t see the replies to Hilary’s letters to her fiancé Basil, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks themselves (and my opinion of Basil is very set as a result!).

Another feature I really loved about this book were the hilarious line drawings, supposedly by Hilary herself, illustrating her letters and providing further insights on her thoughts and feelings about the people around her. Handheld Press reproduces the original layout of the book as closely as possible, giving a real sense that you’re reading through a collection of letters – right down to the Everyman’s letterhead!

I haven’t read a novel in letters before, but enjoyed this book a huge amount – I was hoping for something similar to the brilliant “Diary of a Provincial Lady” by E. M. Delafield, and I wasn’t disappointed. I would highly recommend this book to all, and particularly anyone who enjoys reading about the day-to-day life of working people in the 1930s.

Pages: 242
Published: 1933
Rating: 🐈🐈🐈🐈/5

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