I can’t believe I didn’t discover this brilliant comic novel by Stella Gibbons, first published in 1932, a bit earlier. A friend of mine was reading this and telling me about it, and I recalled the film version I’d seen and enjoyed quite a years ago – without having realized the film had been based on a book.
Luckily, I immediately asked to borrow the book and am pleased to have had the chance to read it – better late than never.
This novel is a fun read – the story of Flora Poste, recently orphaned after receiving a broad education that provides her with culture and wit in abundance, but no tangible skills that will help her to land a job.
Flora puts off any plans for a job search by deciding instead to reach out to distant relatives, with whom she will live, and – according to her plans – meddle in their lives with an aim to improving their situation. The most intriguing offer arrives from the Starkadder Family of the brilliantly-named Cold Comfort Farm. And so, she takes off to set up her new abode in their ‘doomed house’ in which ‘there have always been Starkadders’.
The rural idyll is the staple of British literature, but the family seat of Howling, Sussex bears no resemblance to country life depicted in the Brontës or Hardy. Flora quickly sets out to improve the situation for her distant cousins, thereby placing them at odds with their controlling grandmother, the aptly-named Ada Doom, who keeps her downtrodden brethren on a tight leash because once, long ago, she ‘saw something nasty in the woodshed’.
The writing style and sly wit, including starring key passages to ‘assist book reviewers’, add to the enjoyment of this novel. One odd note, the book was written in 1932, but, according to the author, is set ‘in the future’. Judging from passages, I assumed it would have been taking place in the 1950s. Through no fault of the author’s own, slang stays decidedly set in the 1920s/30s, alongside fashion. Jazz is still all the rage and the young men are scarred by the horrors of war – anyone ever heard of that devastating 20th century War to End All Wars: the English-Nicaraguan War?
So, while her powers of prediction may be questionable, Gibbons’ writing skills are decidedly strong. I truly enjoyed this book – now I’m off to see the film again.