Wednesday, August 29, 2012

REVIEW: Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons. Originally published 1932; this edition 2006, Penguin Deluxe. Literary Fiction. Humor.

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.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, the most perfect novel ever? I need to get that one!

Jeanne said...

I agree. It is a gem, and one I go back to over and over again. Also, I love both the novel and the movie.

Space Station Mir said...

"Most perfect novel"- those are strong words. Added to my to-read list!

Zibilee said...

I loved it when I read it, and that aunt with the nastiness in the woodshed, well, I still think about that saying often. It's a great read, and I am glad that you reviewed it and pointed it out here today.

Audra said...

I've read a few places that argue this is actually a kind of sci-fi novel -- I missed that in my reading of it -- but it's remained as a favorite. Gibbons is a smashing writer.

Alyce said...

The title of the book is familiar, but I must admit I didn't have a clue what it was about until reading your post here. It sounds lovely!

sarah said...

I agree it is a gem of a book. Also try, after reading, listening to the audiobook. It's hilarious and may help bringing home the regional dialect that can be a bit difficult to understand on paper.