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Books to Keep Warm With: Cold Comfort Farm

Sarah Biggerstaff

Family curses, childhood traumas, and sex complexes pepper the narrative of Cold Comfort Farm.

This satiric comedy that follows the adventures of the charmingly meddlesome Flora Poste, as she tries to brighten the gloomy lives of her peculiar, rural relations, the Starkadders. “I have a tidy mind and untidy lives irritate me” remarks Flora, before setting out to bring warmth and happiness back to Cold Comfort.

Working with the industry of a Mary Poppins, and armed with only her wits and simple good sense, Flora overcomes numerous hilarious obstacles, ranging from water vole obsessions to poetry addictions, to improve life at Cold Comfort, one emotionally disturbed, maladjusted relative at a time. Before setting out Flora reflects that “On the whole, Cold Comfort was not without its promise of mystery and excitement”, which the reader can also anticipate in this brilliantly written interwar novel.

Stella Gibbons has been touted as the Jane Austen of the twentieth century, and with good reason. This, her debut novel couples comic social commentary with lashings of romance, and a dash of gothic mystery.

Nothing is too sacred to escape Gibbons’ barbed and humourous satire; the book successfully spoofs the rural romances which were widely published in the 1920s and 1930s by the likes of D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster. Though you don’t have to be widely read to appreciate the novel, those who are will enjoy the quirky literary references which permeate the text.

More than a match for her male comic contemporaries, from P. G. Wodehouse to Evelyn Waugh, Gibbons’ novel also measures up against modern authors, with the pithy observational wit of a Helen Fielding, and the romance of Cecelia Ahern. Gibbons however is in a league of her own, and it is entirely unsurprising that that having published thirty-two other novels, as well as a number of short fiction collections, Cold Comfort Farm remains her most well-known and well-loved work.

Bursting with zany comedy that belies its title, Cold Comfort Farm is filled with warm humour and classic English charm, a perfect light read for anyone who enjoys romance, comedy, witty literary references, and good-old-fashioned quality writing.

More than just a funny book, Cold Comfort is truly a modern classic, in which Gibbons brings her characters to life, and makes you feel like you are really on the glorious downs of rural Sussex.

Her flawless descriptive skill perfectly conjures up the atmosphere of Cold Comfort, where “Daisies opened in sly lust to the sun-rays and rain-spears, and eft-flies, locked in a blind embrace, spun radiantly through the glutinous light to their ordained death”.

Despite the air of gloom and menace, Gibbons’s masterfully comic storytelling makes this novel a genuine pleasure to read. At just over two hundred pages, Cold Comfort is ideal reading for a wet Canberra weekend, or on those morning commutes into work. It is the kind of book that becomes more endearing with each read, and is guaranteed to become a favourite for any bookworm who loves a bit of romance, especially when it is accompanied by a great many laughs.

Cold Comfort Farm is part of the Penguin Classics collection and is available in most book stores.

Cold Comfort Farm

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Sarah Biggerstaff

Sarah Biggerstaff is a literary enthusiast, from Canberra, with a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of York in the United Kingdom. She is currently in her first year of an English PhD, the focus of which is British women’s fiction from the inter-war period, with a particular interest in feminist readings of these novels. Sarah hopes to one day write books, as well as review them, and in the meantime, is happy sharing her passion for books with others. More about the Author

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