"Our Spoons Came From Woolworths"

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

I first heard about Barbara Comyns 3 years ago when I started blogging. She was recommended by so many bloggers that I felt I must be missing out on something special, so I looked up some of her books and put this title on my TBR. When I decided I was in need of some light reading I grabbed a few titles off my book shelf and this one made it to the top of the pile. It did what I wanted it to do - got me involved in a story other than my own and took me away for a while - but it didn't impress me as much as it seemed to impress others.

It's written in the first person, which I like because it gets you inside the character's head and lets you connect with them emotionally, but in this case she (Sophia) speaks with such detachment that I feel I never get to know her. She narrates her stories, good and bad, on the same even keel without letting her feelings show very much. For example, in this passage where she is nine months pregnant, beginning contractions and wondering whether to wake her husband, she sees her mother's ghost (a thing that has never occurred before) but she shows no fear, hardly even any surprise: "...during the night rather a pain came in my tummy so I sat up in bed and wondered if I should wake Charles. Then I saw my mother's ghost sitting in the rocking chair, and it was rocking in quite a normal way, so I did wake Charles and said "Look! There is my mother's ghost. She must have come to tell me it's time to go to the nursing home. I do feel a bit queer."

Later, when Charles gives her a little speech that would surely qualify him for BIGGEST JERK EVER status, she barely reacts at all. This is what he tells her: "I am very fond of you but I loathe this domestic life. The children are quite beautiful, but they don't mean a thing to me. I don't feel like a father, and have never wanted to be one. I may be inhuman and selfish, but I must be, life is so short, and the young part of our lives is going so quickly. I must be free to enjoy it and not be weighed down by all these responsibilities." Her reaction? "All right, Charles...we will part. I'll make my plans. Already there are some quite good ones in my head, so don't worry." She packs up the kids and they leave. He stays in the apartment while she hits the streets with two small children and no money. I wanted to scream at both of them, him for being a spoiled child and her for not kicking his butt out of there and standing up for herself and her children. Her children for pete's sake.

Because Sophia tells her story with this emotionless eccentricity, she stays very distant, a stranger really, right to the end. I did enjoy the reading, but I can't say I loved it because I couldn't ever get hold of her and figure out who she was. Many times my only response to her was shaking my head at the thoughtless decisions she was making.

So. I didn't love this book but I would like to try another because I enjoyed her writing. I seem to be preferring British authours these days; the way they use the language is so very appealing. Since I've been rather negative about this one, I'll leave you with this lovely bit of writing as a balancing positive: "I think the afternoons skating must have been the happiest I had ever had. The feel of the cold air on my face as I glided round and the exciting sound of our skates cutting the ice - suddenly a startled blackbird would fly in a great hurry from a bush, scattering hoar-frost and giving little cries. In the distance there was always someone chopping wood, which made us feel warmer somehow." Beautiful.


Elizabeth said...

I did love this book because it allowed me to free up my own writing!
It seemed so light and conversational.
Good stuff.

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