Saturday, April 3, 2010

Review of the Day: Cold Comfort Farm

I never write in books. Underlining, highlighting, and marginalia are not for me. I like my books to be straight of spine and clean of page. So what am I to do with Cold Comfort Farm that makes me itch to underline? There is a funny, quotable, commit-to-memory-in-case-of-long-imprisonment passage on every page.

Stella Gibbons published Cold Comfort Farm, her first novel, in 1932, as a satire of the moulderingly rural romantic novels of Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, and others. The set up is pitch perfect: Newly orphaned Flora Poste is taken in by distant relatives to live at their grim, decrepit Sussex farm, where morbid Judith lurks in shawls, Amos seethes with religious fury, oversexed cousin Seth lounges half naked, and crazy Aunt Ada Doom won’t leave her room because she “saw something nasty in the woodshed” 68 years ago.

Instead of wallowing in the gloom like some Brönte heroine, Flora takes the situation in hand. Starting with having the curtains washed, she moves on to fixing everyone’s problems with dispatch. She finds careers for the under-employed, spouses for the lovelorn, care for the ill, and a new lease on life for Aunt Ada. Even the cows are better off for Flora’s attentions.

What makes the book so spectacular is that it is funny. Flora’s spot-on commentary about everything from intellectual women gone “all queer about the shoes and coiffure,” to Japanese art films, to rural fecundity is just dead clever.

I am going to have to buy a second copy of Cold Comfort Farm so that I can have one to sit and look pretty on my shelf and another that I can underline to my heart’s content.


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