Friday, 2 September 2011

'Cold Comfort Farm' by Stella Gibbons (1932)

Synopsis: Flora Poste is a sophisticated, sensible, perky and intelligent young woman. She's also an orphan at the age of 19. Being a well-to-do middle class woman Flora finds the idea of work abhorrent and decides that her only choice is to live with her relatives, the Starkadders, in the depths of Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm she meets her long-lost relations. There's her remorseful cousin Judith, who darkly alludes to a great wrong that her husband did to Flora's father many years ago. There's Amos, the hell fire and brimstone preacher who gets a kick out of telling the Quivering Brethren that they're damned. There's Seth, who has slept with nearly every young woman in the county but whose real passion is "the talkies". There's Reuben, who is despairing over the farm and is afraid that Flora is trying to steal it. There's Elfine, who spends her time wandering around the moors and writing poetry. And finally there's Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the past 20 years and once saw "something nasty in the woodshed". Flora loves nothing more than organising other people so she decides to use her common sense and strong will to sort out these people's depressing lives out.

This book was an absolute joy to read. It's definitely one of the funniest books I've ever read and I'm certain that I'll be re-reading it again and again in the future. I loved it! When I found myself laughing out loud at the very first page I took that as a pretty good sign that I was going to find it funny. I did. Cold Comfort Farm is truly laugh-out-loud funny and a hilarious parody of the melodramatic, rural-set novels that were popular at the time (i.e. the works of D.H. Lawrence). Also, I'd say that this book is a must-read for Jane Austen fans. Gibbons' writing style is very Austen-esque. There are references to Persuasion and Mansfield Park in this book but the two Austen novels that it reminded me of the most were Emma and Northanger Abbey. Flora Poste bears a strong resemblance to Austen's Emma Woodhouse since they both like to have everything their own way and both share the same tendency to meddle; and like Northanger Abbey this book is a genre parody. If you're looking for a book that is true to the spirit of Austen's novels without shamelessly trying to rip them off then this book is for you.

I'd strongly disagree with some reviews I've read of this book which suggest that you'd have to have an extensive knowledge of the works that Gibbons is parodying in order to find it funny. Yes, I'm sure that a prior knowledge of those works would no doubt enhance the humour of Cold Comfort Farm but it's by no means essential. I'm not especially familiar with those works myself after all but I still found this book funny! The characters are very memorable too and end up being a lot more likeable and endearing than you might think. It's well-written, some of Gibbons' descriptions are lovely, and the ending is heartwarming and touching. I read the Penguin edition of this book and I'd recommend reading the introduction by Lynn Truss which is very interesting. Vintage Classics have also re-printed some of Gibbons' other works which have been out-of-print for decades and I'm sure I'll give those a read at some point.

Rating: 5/5

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