Ursula Bloom: Wonder Cruise (1934)

Wonder Cruise

Before Corazon Books contacted me and asked me whether I would be interested in reviewing Ursula Bloom’s Wonder Cruise, I had never even heard of the author before. It sounded like a novel by one of those wonderful English authors who wrote and published in the first half of the last century – Mary Stewart, Angela Thirkell, Barbara Pym -, so I said yes immediately. When the book arrived I was a bit worried because of the cover, but as soon as I started reading I knew I had nothing to worry about. Although it has an unfortunate cover, Wonder Cruise is an absolutely delightful book; it’s as charming as it’s witty. I could hardly believe that an author who wrote like this has become a forgotten author. Especially since Ursula Bloom wrote far over 500 novels. Yes, you read correctly – over 500. She’s even in the Guinness Book of Records.

Written and set in the 1930s, Wonder Cruise tells the story of Ann Clements. You could call it a story of awakening and transformation. Ann is a spinster of 35, with little hope of marriage or an otherwise fulfilled life. She works at an office, doing tedious, boring jobs. In her private life, she is pretty much under the thumb of her older brother Cuthbert, a pompous, self-righteous clergyman who manipulates Ann constantly. It doesn’t look as if there was a lot of hope for Ann’s future but, from the first page on we know that Ann’s a very keen observer and someone who is very much aware of the beauty surrounding her, and we instantly root for her.

She’s aware that she doesn’t like her life and her work but she doesn’t think it could change.

That was life at the office.

It went on and on and on for years, as it would go on and on, Ann felt, long after she was dead. It was a place that she had been sucked into by the giant machinery of life. An intricate pattern of living, and always dismally the same. You could not escape it.

Then something wonderful happens. Ann wins a lot of money in a sweepstake and suddenly life has promise. However, there’s Cuthbert to deal with. He wants her to save the money, so his own daughter will have something to fall back on. Ann’s torn between her feelings of duty and her yearning for another life.

Until this actual moment she had not realised that she was sick of digging, and of doing the same thing in the same way day after day. She had not realised that Mrs. Puddock’s rooms were awful, and that Monday washing, Tuesday ironing, Wednesday mending, Thursday hair-wash were much like a pair of handcuffs set like shackles on her wrists.

Once she’s conscious of her situation and the manipulations of her brother, she is able to break free. She books a cruise along the Mediterranean coast. The ship lands at Marseille, Gibraltar, Naples, Malta, Venice  . . . With every kilometer, Ann becomes more herself, discovers that she is still young and attractive. For the first time, she enjoys herself.

There was the scent of tuber roses, and of lilies and wistaria all blending together. It was far more beautiful than anything she had ever imagined, far lovelier than any picture she had seen, even the one inside the portal of the steamship company in Cockspur Street.

Cockspur Street.

How terribly far away that seemed – and was!

After a few weeks of enjoyment, Ann has to ask herself fundamental questions: Who is she really and what does she want? Can she ever go back to her dull life of routine? And what about the men she meets? Is there one among them that she could love?

I’ll stop here and let future readers find out from themselves how Ann answers these questions.

The descriptions of the various settings are so lovely and spot-on. I’ve been to many of these places and the way Ursula Bloom described them, shows that she knew these places very well. Ann is a delightful character. She’s endearing, naïve but enthusiastic and a witty and keen observer. It’s great fun to read her take on the various people who are on this cruise with her. Bloom enjoys poking fun at stuck-up, uptight Brits who treat the places and people they meet like artifacts in a museum and constantly complain about the heat and the food. Some of the scenes are really funny.

Wonder Cruise has been such a discovery. It offers intelligent, charming entertainment, features an endearing main character, and is full of witty observations and enthralling descriptions. I’d love to read more of Ursula Bloom’s books.

43 thoughts on “Ursula Bloom: Wonder Cruise (1934)

  1. Thanks for the head’s up about this book. I just borrowed it on Kindle Unlimited. And, yes, the cover is cheezy…

  2. I was hoping that this would be better than the cover, because I liked Ursula Bloom very much when I read one of her memoirs. That may have inspired this, because it covered the time she spent as a naval wife in the same part of the world.

    • So much better than the cover!
      I really don’t know much about her but I sensed she’d travelled to all of these places.
      I’m sure her memoir must be very good. She’s such a keen observer of human folly. 🙂

  3. It sounds absolutely delightful, Caroline. Another neglected English writer to discover. It’s a real shame about the cover, though – a good lesson in trying to look beyond the jacket image to focus on the contents inside. (That said, like you, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if I’d seen it in a bookshop so I wonder how it will do in the broader market.)

    • It really is delightful. I would love to hear what you think of her. I hope the editor sees the cover feedback because it is a shame. I hope they’ll dig out more of her books and, hopefully, this cover isn’t part of the way they want to market the series.

      • Let’s hope so. I meant to say that I reviewed a Barbara Pym fairly recently, No Fond Return of Love. Not sure if it’s one you’ve read, but it might be of interest to you. I am so enjoying the work of these traditional English writers.

        • Me too. It’s been a while since I’ve last read Barbara Pym but I liked her so much. I didn’t see your review but then again, I’m behind in reading and commenting.

  4. Yes it is an unfortunate cover. It looks very romantic.
    I’m going to look this author up. See what else is out there. I’d never heard of her and since she wrote 500 books (!) that’s shocking.

  5. Never heard of Ursula Bloom but the book does sound delightful. The cover is truly horrendous so horrible I probably would be put off buying the print version. If there’s a kindle version I might be tempted.

    • I could imagine you’d like this very much.
      You make me laugh. I prefer reading paperbacks but when the review copy arrived I thought “Oh no. I should have aksed for the kindle version. No way am I going to read this on a bus.” So, yes, there’s a kindle version. I’d love to hear what you think.

  6. Great commentary on this book.

    Winning a large sum of money has such potential for a great story. I can see how such a plot device can lead to all sorts of situations that allow the author to examine a charicter in unique ways.

  7. Wonderful review, Caroline! I so want to read this book! I can’t wait to find out what happened to Ann! I love books with introverted characters who discover life and how the world opens up to them. Such a wonderful new author discovery – Ursula Bloom. Thank you 🙂

    • Thanks, Vishy. I could really imagine you’d enjoy this. I loved Ann’s character and the way she changed. She was so endearing. And the book made me want to travel. I’ve never been to Malta.
      I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  8. Even for trying to sell the book as a ‘romance’ sort of novel that is a really awful cover. They could have come up with something so much more stylish really, but the story sounds great. I thought my library might have some of her books since she is so prolific, but alas, not a single one, so I have requested this one via ILL–but it will be one of of the original copies from the 30s so a nice plain cover–fingers crossed I can get a copy. I love this era–more so when the book is written at the actual time. I could use a little re-invention of my life–wouldn’t it be nice to go to the Mediterranean to do it, too! 😉

    • I don’t think there’s anyone who likes this cover! A huge disservice to the author. I like the Angela Thirkell covers and also the Elizabeth Taylors – very dfferent. Something like that would have been nice.
      I think you’ll love this. It has the combination you like – amazing setting – yes, I’d love a trip to the Mediterraneans – even without the life changing 🙂 – a lovely main character. And such witty observations. I read thos ine very slowly and really savoured it. Lucky you to find an old copy. Strange that you couldn’t find any of her other books. I too love the era and even more when the book’s from that time. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this.

      • I love those Thirkell and Taylor covers, too. They are very elegant. I am looking forward to this–it will take a week or so for a copy to be loaned (fingers crossed there is no problem getting one–otherwise will have to settle for the newer edition). I love books from this era!

  9. This is a book I would be in no danger of picking up based on cover alone, so I’m glad to have come across your review which has convinced me it deserves a place on my wish list!

    • I’m glad to hear that. I only hope the publishertakes all the cover comenst into consideration becasue it’s too bad a book is not picked up because of that.
      I hope you’ll enjoy it, should you read it.

  10. Wonderful review, Caroline. I have to admit I did a double take when I saw the cover. 🙂 What a shame, but maybe the publisher is hoping to attract a wider audience with a chick lit front?
    I am amazed at the number of books she wrote and really hope this one does well and they reprint more. Thanks for the heads-up.

  11. It’s the kind of plot where the writing makes it fall on side or the other of the Romance fence.
    Seems like it kept a right equilibrium. I’ll try it it sounds a good Beach & Public Transport book and I need one of those for the summer.

    • Obviously, it has a happy ending but I didn’t feel it’s too sweet. Some of the characterisations are great it captures the time so well. I prefer books set and written in that era over books just set then.
      It’s perfect as a “beach and transportation read”.

  12. Pingback: Saturday news: two abandoned books, a missed literary escapade and a sugar-without-cellulite read. | Book Around The Corner

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