Monday, 23 July 2012

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

Do you ever have those books that you know you should read because you'd really like them but you just never seem to get around to them? That's how I've always felt about Cold Comfort Farm. I would pass it in Waterstones almost every time I went, look down at it, think 'I should read that' and then move on to something else. It wasn't that I didn't want to read it; it was just that I'm easily distracted.

Last week, aware that I would need somethings to read on the train to Stratford (the reason I didn't update on Thursday), I decided to get some books out of my university library to read. Things that I wouldn't necessarily buy but that would be in the English department. As I wandered the shelves, looking for things that weren't super heavy but weren't critical reading essay collections either, I ended up with a stack that included Cold Comfort Farm. Since it was the thinest of the pile, I decided to start with that one. It was a good choice.

Cold Comfort Farm tells the story of Flora Poste, a young girl around nineteen or twenty who finds herself orphaned by parents that she really didn't know well in the first place. Not very distressed, she stays with her friend in town and writes to a bunch of relatives, trying to find someone who will take her in. Although everyone graciously offers, Flora decides to take up her cousin Judith's letter, thinking that living on a farm in Sussex will be quite an adventure. 

Of course, Cold Comfort is not at all what Flora expects and at the same time, is exactly what she thought. Her cousin Judith keeps apologizing about a wrong her husband did Flora's father but won't speak on what it is, Amos is a fiery preacher who enjoys telling the congregation that they're all sinners, Seth is a womanizer who secretly loves the talkies, Reuben just really wants to run the farm and Elfine spends all day running through the meadows and hills to the beat of her own drummer.

As this book is a parody of the rural farm novels that were popular at the time it was written (1932), this is a very funny book. Even if you're not familiar with the idea of the stock farm novel (and it's completely understandable if you aren't), it's still plenty funny on its own. Watching Flora dealing quite admirably with these ridiculous characters is always entertaining. Plus, Gibbons's hilarious and quite timely writing style really adds to the story. There's just something about the way people wrote in the thirties that pulls you right into the time period and that's very present in this novel, despite it being set in the "near future." You can hear that early twentieth century sensibility coming through the minute Flora sets eyes on Elfine dancing about like a sprite and remarks that she really should try blue because light green is nice but doesn't go well with Elfine's coloring. 

Cold Comfort Farm is a very enjoyable and quick read. It isn't deep or dark or probing but it's fun and light and sure to put a smile on your face. I dare you not to enjoy it.

P.S. It also has a lovely movie adaptation that was made in 1995 starring Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan, Stephen Fry and (my favorite) Rupert Penry-Jones as the young Dick Hawk-Monitor. I whole-heartedly endorse it.

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