Friday, 17 December 2010

Cold Comfort Farm

Stella Gibbons

I'm going to get through this entire review without once mentioning that Stella Gibbons is just another way of saying Excellent Apes. Watch me.

I don't think I've enjoyed a novel so much--or so easily, at least--in a long while. I'm not sure why only one person has been recommending it to me. Where were the rest of you at?

The succesful heroine, Flora Poste, is something of a new favourite of mine. She is orphaned without fuss, and goes to live with a family of crazy cousins on a cursed farm. As each family member's troubles are piled up, one by one, there isn't a second when you doubt that Flora, armed with common sense and all-round aptitude, will overcome them in turn. This is in no way a 'how will it all end?' novel. You know how it's going to end, and it's going to be happy, so you might as well enjoy yourself on the way.

And it's easy to enjoy, on account of being frankly hilarious; while nobody can deny that there's still something satisfying about a problem being solved, however easy it was. Possibly my favourite laugh was at Adam Lambsbreath, the ancient farmhand type, practising clettering.

Clettering is basically washing up, but using a dry twig of thorn instead of a cloth. When Flora buys Adam a proper little mop, he recieves it with awe and sombre glee. Then he hangs it up somewhere safe in his cowshed, because it's too nice to use for clettering, and picks another dry twig off the thorn bush. Flora is more succesful in her spurning the sexual advances of the young men around her; the sexual predator and future filmstar Seth, and the enlightened, modern intellectual and unattractive Mr Mybug.

A lot of Cold Comfort Farm is parody. At least I think it is. It's hard to tell, because most of the novels it's parodying are long gone, and the ones that are still around I don't want to read. There's plenty of deliberate allusion, and there's probably tons more I missed. That's the only problem with parody--once your subject matter is gone, the book loses a dimemsion. I've thought the same thing reading Waugh before. Oddly enough, this doesn't affect old episodes of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. That stuff is still gold.

But the over-my-head parodies didn't get in the way. Like a good builder, I hardly knew they were there. Except, that is, for the rather annoying asterixing of certain passages. These are where Gibbons goes all out attack on flamboyant purple prose, with mixed and misguided metaphors all over the shop. It wasn't these passages that annoyed me--they were funny. And truth be told, I skim-read most passages of description. I can't help myself. But the bloody asterixes everywhere, what a palaver.

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