Review: Cold Comfort Farm

“There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort”! No seriously, let me tell you how much fun Stella Gibbons´ satire of rural novels is.

Flora Poste, orphaned, well-educated and supposedly unfit for any work, decides to burden her extended family. Equipped with “The Higher Common Sense”, Flora sets out for Cold Comfort Farm. The gloomy, dingy place offers every caricature of rural drama: the mad woman in the attic (Aunt Ada  “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” Doom), a free spirit (appropriately named Elfine), the stick-in-the-mud (Ruben), the sexed-obsessed Seth, wallowing-in-misery Judith, hell-preaching Amos, and the cow-whisperer Adam. Far from abandoning all hope at the sight of them,  Flora decides to tidy up, and is soon introducing tea, civilization, order, and the twentieth century to her family.

For all the fun Gibbons pokes at the drama of romantic rural novels such as Thomas Hardy or Wuthering Heights, the characters come very much alive and are so much more than mere caricatures. I found myself developing an odd affection for their strange quirks and way of life. This is likely due to Gibbons´excellent writing (and you cannot miss the “best” of her passages, as she was kind enough to emphasize them with asterisks) and the fact that she makes her characters use accents and dialects, apparently fashioned after the Sussex variety. Except for a few terms, which even Flora cannot understand, this does not complicate the novel but rather adds a bit of realism. In contrast to this stands the futuristic setting of this book, at least that´s what the reader is told in the beginning. It´s hardly noticeable though and I actually kind of forgot all about it while reading. But if you do like that sort of thing, try to catch these futuristic instances and let me know about them 🙂

If you haven´t read Cold Comfort Farm yet, make sure to move it up your tbr pile, it´s such a gem. I don´t really know what else to say about this book, I don´t want to give away the conclusions of Flora´s meddling with her relatives´ fates. It does wrap up very tidily though, just the way Flora likes it 🙂 I can also highly recommend the film adaptation of 1995.

Cold Comfort Farm was published in 1932 and as such counts towards Nymeth´s 1930s Mini-Challenge.

Favorite passages:

“So, Flora mused, must Columbus have felt when the poor Indian fixed his solemn, unwavering gaze upon the great sailor´s face. For the first time a Starkadder looked upon a civilized being.” (49)

“She liked Victorian novels. They were the only kind of novel you could read while you were eating an apple.” (53)

“Mrs Starkadder was the Dominant Grandmother Theme, which was found in all typical novels of agricultural life (and sometimes in novels of urban life, too).” (57)

“It was curious that persons who lived what the novelists called a rich emotional life always seemed to be a bit slow on the uptake.  The most ordinary actions became, to such persons, entangled in complicated webs of apprehension and suspicion.” (67)

“[s]o Flora disregarded the raised eyebrows of her friend (who, like all loose-living persons, was extremely conventional).” (94)

“`there´ll be no butter in hell!´”. (98)

“Flora was desperately sleepy: she felt as though she were at one of Eugene O´Neill´s plays; that kind that goes on for hours and hours, until the R.S.P.C. Audiences batters the doors of the theatre in and insists on a tea interval” (178)

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I´ll add a link!

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13 thoughts on “Review: Cold Comfort Farm

  1. I think I’ve had this title confused with something else because it sounds totally different to what I thought it was like. I’ll have to check it out! Accents and dialects in the actual writing of a book are so hard to get right. With the one I’m reading now, The Knife of Never Letting Go, when I saw that there were some accents written into it I inwardly groaned, because I have a hard time with some books that do that. But it’s turned out to be really good and not irritating to read at all. It sounds like Stella Gibbons got it right here too.

    1. I hope you do decide to check it out, it´s so great! And from what I can tell, the dialect is fairly accurate (perhaps it´s a bit exaggerated for the sake of the satire), and it wasn´t annoying to read either 🙂

      I´m looking forward to your review of The Knife of Never Letting Go, it sounds great 🙂

    1. Thanks for commenting, Sarah. And thanks for the link, too. I listened to the Sussex variety, and Gibbons really got it on paper! That´s close to how I imagined them mumling 🙂

  2. Lovely review, Bina! ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ looks like a wonderful book! I loved all the quotes you have given – especially the ones about Victorian novels, novelists with rich emotional lives and about there being no butter in hell 🙂 (Must be tough for the guys there!!) I loved the one about Eugene O’Neill’s plays too – couldn’t stop laughing when I read it 🙂

    1. Thank you, Vishy!
      Makes heaven that much more appealing, if they have butter 😀 Hope you´ll love this book as well, it´s really such a great satire 🙂

  3. Great review, Bina!
    I haven’t read Cold Comfort Farm yet and I’m definitely going to move it up my TBR list. 🙂

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