A Review of a Classic, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, from Byte the Booker Noella Bello Castro

Posted by Justine Solomons on November 17, 2012, in Recommendations

Review written by Noella Bello Castro of Byte the Book, Book Club in Kentish Town.

Noella recently wrote a review of our book club for the Kentishtowner, you can read it here.

Buy this book here.

You’re a resourceful young woman in your twentieth year and you’ve received the best education money can buy.  Within two weeks of each other, both of your parents die in a Spanish plague epidemic leaving you barely enough money to keep yourself in stockings and fans.  What do you do?

Well, our heroine Flora faces this exact dilemma, but because of her background, breeding and education she’s not flustered by such trivialities.  She just hatches a plan to go and live off her relatives and gets on with it – which pretty much epitomises the way she deals with things throughout the entire novel.

Cold Comfort Farm is very funny, and a send-up of novels written about country life that were popular in the early 1930s, when Stella Gibbons was writing.  I like to think that she wiped away tears of laughter as she was writing certain bits - I certainly did when I was reading them.  Three pages into Chapter 1, when I read that Flora’s friend Mrs Smiling was ‘an authority on the cut, fit, colour, construction and proper functioning of brassieres’ I decided I was hooked.  I don’t want to spoil the novel for those that want to read it but the comic delights just keep on a comin’.

The setting is largely what you would expect in those sorts of novels but with a tongue-in-cheek twist.  For example we’re told that Mrs Smiling was fortunate to inherit a property in Lambeth ‘before the rents in that district soared to ludicrous heights, following the tide of fashion as it swung away from Mayfair to the other side of the river’.  Similarly there are references to TV phones and air taxis - although it is possible that Stella may have thought these would have been invented fifteen or twenty years into the future, when the novel was set.

While Cold Comfort Farm was, for the most part, enjoyable there were a few moments which let it down.  Stella’s portrayal of Mybug, a Jewish character (actually ‘Meyerburg’), was really uncomfortable to read and just about understandable because the novel was written at a time where people wouldn’t have known better.  And, while the novel is supposed to poke fun at long descriptive prose, some of the descriptions were just that little bit too long.

I think what I like the most about the book is that Stella Gibbons clearly doesn’t take herself too seriously, unlike the authors she is making fun of.  In her foreword to an imaginary writer she pokes fun at herself (but really him) because she comes from a journalistic background where she has learned to be concise rather than write overblown sentences.  And I think the bit that amuses me the most is where she uses asterisks throughout the book’s entirety to highlight sentences she feels are particularly impressive descriptively.

Apparently she ruffled a few feathers when Cold Comfort Farm was published.  This doesn’t surprise me – I think that was exactly her intention.


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