"Cold Comfort Farm"

"Cold Comfort Farm" by Stella Gibbons

This is a very funny book....once you know it's meant to be satirical. Otherwise one would think Ms. Gibbons is not quite grasping reality. Fortunately I had read a few reviews so I knew what to expect and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It is the story of a young woman of  manners, but no money, who needs a place to live when her parents die. She has no marketable skills and is rather disinclined to earn her own living anyway. She writes to several relatives to ask if they would be willing to give her a home and she ends up at Cold Comfort Farm with her aunt Ada Doom, who is the head of the family and only comes out of her room once or twice a year, and her cousin, Judith, who lives always deep in the depths of despair, has 200 pictures of her favorite son in her bedroom and believes there is no hope for any of her family, the Starkadders.

Aunt Ada Doom keeps her large family from leaving the farm by exercising her considerable gift for manipulation. Judith's husband, Amos, is a tormented preacher of the fire and brimstone variety, who feels called to show people their sinful ways but also assures them there is no nope for them because they will never be forgiven. The other inhabitants of the farm are all extreme in their own peculiar way, resulting in more of an asylum atmosphere than a home. That may not sound like a funny book but really, it is.

The names given to both people and animals are wonderfully ridiculous. The dairy cows are Pointless, Aimless, Feckless, Graceless and Fury. People's names include Mr. Mybug, Rev. Elderberry Shiftglass, Agony Beetle and Mrs. Hawk-Monitor. Names are such powerful things and in this book they create a sense of the ludicrous that makes the whole thing highly entertaining.

Flora, the young woman who goes to live on the farm, feels it is her duty to make all the others as normal as possible. Not that she has a great grasp on normalcy herself, but confidence and determination can overcome a multitude of deficiencies. And so she goes to work on them one at a time, with her endeavors in that direction making up the rest of the story.  

Usually I have to be able to relate to at least one of the characters in a book to really get into it. In this book they are all seriously unique individuals and though I didn't find anyone I could connect with on an emotional level, it doesn't matter. It's all just so ridiculous you can't help but laugh.

I think this would be a fun novel to study because there are so many characters and situations to analyze. It would be interesting to pull it apart and see what is under the surface. Alas I probably will never do that because I have a gazillion other books I want to read in this lifetime, but I might reread it and may even recommend it to my book club. That would make for some stimulating conversation and give me a chance to get a little deeper into it. 

Some lines that made me laugh:

1. "He was enmeshed in his grief. He did not notice that Graceless's leg had come off and that she was managing as best she could with three."  Seriously, how all-consuming would his grief have to be to not notice the cow's leg was missing? And how does a cow's leg just fall off anyway?

2. When Flora asks if she can go to town with Amos to hear him preach: "Aye...ye can come...ye poor miserable creepin' sinner".  Serious lack of people skills there.

3. "'I thought poetry was enough', said Elphine, wistfully. 'I mean, I thought poetry was so beautiful that if you met someone you loved and you told them you wrote poetry, that would be enough to make them love you, too.'" Uh huh.

A curious passage occurs when Flora calls her friend Claude from a public telephone:
"Claud twisted the television dial and amused himself by studying Flora's fair, pensive face......She could not look at him, because public telephones were not fitted with television dials.  Television dial? On a telephone? And he could see her while she was talking on a phone with no television installed on it? The book was first published in 1932 and the setting is declared to "take place in the near future". Hmmm. If I'm missing something here somebody please enlighten me 'cause that's just weird.

This is a book definitely worth reading. I see there are two more called "Conference At Cold Comfort Farm" and "Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm". They've been added to my tbr list, so hopefully I'll be able to find them. All those crazy people sort of feel like family. Again, hmmm.


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