Monday, September 5, 2011

Cold Comfort Farm

This is another book that the First Tuesday Book Club put me onto. I picked it up as a Penguin classic, by Stella Gibbson. This is a gem!
   It is a take-off of rural novels being written at its time (1930s). This woman can write comedy, but her language is still so full of imagery and the characters are very well developed. I was laughing out loud in so many places. And, I was always searching for a pen to underline tiny pieces of brilliant writing!
   The heroine, Flora Poste, finds herself orphaned at 19 years old, and broke. But she's not too concerned, because she hardly knew her parents who were always travelling, and she was off getting the best education that money could buy. Instead of getting a job, she decides to impose upon distant family members, and takes up an offer from her cousin Judith Starkadder to come and stay at Cold Comfort Farm. Intrigued by Judith's letter which speaks of 'her rights' and the promise that she will 'atone' for the wrong done to Flora's father, Flora, armed with a copy of the Higher Common Self, makes her way to Howling, Sussex.

 Flora meets her distant family of country hicks, determined to improve everyone's life. Her cousin Judith is depressed and manic, her God fearing husband is gruff, there is jealous Rueben, and over-sexed son Seth, and young lovesick dryad Elfine. All of whom are ruled over by the reclusive matriarch Aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed and holds her family at bay with the threat of her insanity.
   It is a hilarious tale of Flora optimistically taking each family member, approaching their problems calmly and without fuss, and changing their lives. She is always commenting on how people are portrayed in novels, and how people who lead 'rich emotional lives' react in certain circumstances - 'they read all kinds of meanings into comparatively simple actions, especially the actions of other people, who do not live intensely and with a wild poetry. Thus you may find them weeping passionately on their bed, and be told that you - you alone - are the cause because you said that awful thing to them at lunch.'
   The cows are called Graceless, Pointless, Feckless and Aimless, and the bull is called Big Business. The elderly farm hand 'cletters' the dishes with a thorn twig, rather than wash them. When Flora buys him a mop on a stick to wash the dishes, he loves the mop so much, and thinks it is so pretty, that he hangs it on the wall never to be used!
   Flora never finds out what Aunt Ada Doom saw in the woodshed, she never finds out what wrong was done to her father, and she never finds out what her rights are. But, she achieves so much that she leaves satisfied and exhausted, with everyone's life fixed.
   Highly recommended.

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