Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, is a true classic that shows us that even back in the 1930s authors knew how to poke fun at themselves.  Despite being very English, and considered a classic in every way, Cold Comfort Farm will cause you to literally cry with laughter, so be warned, try not to read it in public (or better yet, please do.  Think of it as payback for all the times you’ve had to sit next to a bonkers person on the train).

The novel is based around the protagonist, Flora Poste, a very sensible and well-bred young lady who is looking for a new home after her parents unexpectedly pass away (don’t worry, she’s not too sad about that, as she is, after all, a sensible and well-bred young lady).  Instead of staying with her friend in the city, or any of the numerous close family and friends who offer their homes, she decides to embark on a journey to Cold Comfort Farm, set in the distinctly desolate Sussex (cue bad English accents here).

Flora, who is by any definition a busy-body who thinks she can make others lives better, sets out to improve the distinctly dotty Starkadders family, from the attractive son, Seth, all the way to the matriarch of the family, Aunt Ada Doom, who ‘saw something nasty in the woodshed’ and is decidedly the battiest of them all.

Although I didn’t realise it while I was reading it, later on I learnt that Cold Comfort Farm is a parody of an assortment of novels that were being released at the time; many of which included Sussex, a crazy, controlling old lady and a depressing farm.  In retrospect, this just made the novel even more hilarious and over-the-top.

While I knew that Cold Comfort Farm had a reputation for being humorous, I didn’t have high expectations.  After all, I thought to myself, it’s an English classic written over 80 years ago, surely Gibbon’s sense of humour won’t be the same as mine?  Clearly, I was wrong.  It turns out that mocking stereotypes, and the English for that matter, will stand the test of time.  Gibbons has a perfect style of writing for this genre; she tells a story and makes us emphasise with certain characters, while acknowledging that they’re all being ridiculous.  And any novel that can appreciate how prim and proper early 20th century England was, and have a laugh at it, is one that I’m going to enjoy.

Another distinctive trait of this novel was the abundance of female characters, without falling into the usual genre of romance or chick lit (which even the legendary Jane Austen fell into time and time again). And each of them, although flawed, contain a power that many of the males don’t within the novel, a refreshing and welcome change (once again, particularly because of the time it was written). There was Flora, the protagonist, who was strong-willed and even-tempered, but who also took things far too seriously at times and didn’t understand the idea of privacy.  Then there was Elfine, the beautiful yet elusive ‘wood nymph’ (I’m really trying to think of another description, but that’s seriously what continually comes to mind) who changes her future.  While both Aunt Ada Doom and Judith Starkadder were a bit bonkers, they still held control and triumph over the men at Cold Comfort Farm, whether they liked it or not.  And even Mrs Beetle, who some may have viewed as a lowly cleaner, controlled the farm is subtle ways that instigated change.

Overall, Cold Comfort Farm was a novel that I would highly recommend for a reader who is after a more sophisticated form of comedy.  It stands apart from other novels that I’ve read from that time period for its ability to take things a lot more lightly, to appreciate the absurd and to basically have a good time, while telling the story.

Have you read Cold Comfort Farm?  What did you think? Let me know!

cold comfort farm by stella gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm – (image taken from http://www.wikimedia.org)

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