Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cold Comfort Farm

Review: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm    
“What a hoot!” crowed Jane, knowing full well that no proper lady would use such crass language, especially in London, but she was on an insufferably indelicate farm in Sussex, and one sometimes has to throw down one’s lace gloves and simply declare that a story is a downright hoot.

Such is my opinion of Stella Gibbons’ hilarious tale of young, urbane Flora Poste’s foray into the sorry business and cursed characters of Cold Comfort Farm. What adventures she has as she meddles and sways and decides what’s best for distant dysfunctional relatives at the farm. Their dysfunction is extreme and reform is challenging, but unflappable Flora cleverly prevails.

In Cold Comfort Farm, Gibbons seems to be poking fun at idyllic pastoral novels and perhaps even literary romances of manners and morals. Lynne Truss’ introduction to the edition I read details specific literary references and parodies. Without knowing all Gibbons intended, I recognized her intelligent humor. I smiled throughout this book and even laughed out loud at some points. The names alone are funny, for example the cows Feckless, Graceless, Pointless, and Aimless and the bull, Big Business. The self-pitying family matriarch, whose thumb the family members were under, was named Aunt Ada Doom. Last name: Starkadder.

Here’s a scene in a small-town restaurant that shows the book’s droll tone:

By now Flora was really cross. Surely she had endured enough for one evening without having to listen to intelligent conversation? Here was an occasion, she thought, for indulging in that deliberate rudeness which only persons with habitually good manners have the right to commit; she sat down at a table with her back to the supposed Mr. Mybug, picked up a menu which had gnomes painted on it, and hoped for the best …

She was just beginning on her fourth biscuit when she became conscious of a presence approaching her from behind, and before she could collect her faculties the voice of Mr. Mybug said: “Hello, Flora Poste. Do you believe women have souls?” And there he was, standing above her and looking down at her with a bold yet whimsical smile.

Flora was not surprised at being asked this question. She knew that intellectuals, like Mr. Kipling’s Bi-coloured Python-Rock-Snake, always talked like this. So she replied pleasantly, but from her heart: “I am afraid I’m not very interested.”

The story is fast-paced and for the most part, lighthearted. Cold Comfort Farm is delightful.

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