Wednesday, August 29, 2012
REVIEW: Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons
I don't think I can really call this a review- it's more like an appreciation. Cold Comfort Farm may be the world's most perfect novel.
Cold Comfort was Stella Gibbons' first novel and by no means her last, and it was meant to be a parody of a certain kind of pastoral English novel; in Gibbons' version, a no-nonsense city girl, Flora Poste, moves into her cousins' country farm and rather than being won over by the rural delights she encounters, she sets about making it better. What makes Flora wonderful is that she isn't trying to really change anyone- she just wants everyone to be the best versions of themselves they can be, and she's willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Flora is a young woman of good breeding but limited means; when her parents die, she either needs to find a place to live or a job, and since she's far too ladylike for work, she contacts her relatives and asks to be taken in. The best offer comes from her distant cousin, Judith Starkadder, of Cold Comfort Farm, and Flora moves in right away. What she finds is a barely functioning rural homestead filled with miserable and eccentric and basically good people who just don't know how to run their own lives. They live under the thumb of ancient Aunt Ada Doom, a gloomy matriarch who "saw something nasty in the woodshed" and insists that none of her brood ever leave Cold Comfort. Flora thinks that won't do at all.
As I said, what makes Flora wonderful is that she doesn't think she's better than her country cousins- she just thinks they can be better at being themselves and she sets about helping them with great enthusiasm. Cold Comfort Farm is an absolute delight and you should read it right away if you haven't already. It's sweet, it's funny, its characters are unforgettable and Gibbons' writing is as close to perfect as you'll ever find in English. You should get the Penguin Deluxe edition if you can for its fantastic cover by artist Roz Chast, and then you should drop everything else and read it immediately. It's a book to buy and keep forever.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.