‘I saw something nasty in the woodshed’

When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm (1932) is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

This new Penguin Classics edition includes an introduction by Lynne Truss discussing Stella Gibbons’ unconventional life and career and her joyously satirical voice.Goodreads


I have been meaning to read this classic for years. Literally, years. Pretty much ever since I first watched the movie around the time it came out, which was in 1995. Fuck, I’m old. Anyway, it’s been on the TBR for a while.

The other day, for some odd reason, I decided I was ready to dive back in. I picked it up for the third time determined to give it a fair shake and not give up on it in the second chapter as had happened in both previous attempts.

And get into it I did. It’s an odd book, to be sure. There’s the time period – having been written in the 1930s – but there are also cultural references and peculiar dialects to get used to. I think it helped that I had seen the movie first, because its dialogue stuck quite closely to that in the book, and I was able to draw on my memory of the actors’ voices and representations as I was reading.

The story itself is one in which not a lot happens, really. Flora Poste, a young woman who was recently orphaned, goes to live with her eccentric relatives on a crumbling, dirty, inhospitable farm, and proceeds to take everyone in hand – from sex-crazed Seth to wood nymph Elfine to downtrodden Reuben and even Aunt Ada “I saw something narsty in the woodshed” Doom.

Flora is about the only person who could not only devise ways to get through to each of the Starkadders, but who would have the stomach for it. They’re an unappealing lot, and stubbornly set in their ways. But as you read the story of how Flora wins over each in turn, you’ll discover that she’s also won you over in the end. 

This is definitely a story that will appeal to those with a “British” (i.e. dark, dry and sarcastic) sense of humour. Which is probably why I love it so much, as that sums up my own. It’s a classic for a reason, and once you get past the first few chapters and settle into Flora Poste’s England, you’ll feel right at home there. If not always comfortable.


Book Title: Cold Comfort Farm
Author: Stella Gibbons
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Penguin Classics
Released: September 8, 1932 (this edition 2008)
Genre: Fiction, Classic, Humour
Pages: 233
Date Read: July 8-14, 2014
Rating: 10/10

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