Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

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Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

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Category: Humour
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: One of the great classics of the 20th century, a riotous romp which never fails to amuse.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 978-0141441597

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Orphaned at 19, Flora Poste – a London sophisticate – is led to retreat to deepest Sussex to live off her relatives the Starkadders at the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, a mournful bunch who take her in as they couldn't refuse anything of Robert Poste's child, but seem less than happy with having to do so. As she meets the preacher Amos, his over-sexed younger son Seth, his flighty sister Elphine, and the hugely memorable – if barely seen – Aunt Ada Doom, the first person in literature to see something nasty in the woodshed – she resolves to take the family in hand and solve their problems.

This has a reputation as one of the funniest books ever written, and it's a well-deserved one. Yes, the language is deliberately impenetrable in places – particularly the dialogue of the Starkadders, with Seth mollocking with the local ladies, Adam clettering the dishes, and the sukebind forever growing. That fake but authentic-sounding dialogue, though, is part of the charm, along with a cast in which pretty much every character is wonderfully memorable, especially Flora herself, while I defy anyone not to be desperate to find out exactly why such a debt is owed to the daughter of Robert Poste.

Of course, Gibbons wrote the book as a parody of authors such as Mary Webb, DH Lawrence, and Thomas Hardy, and I'm sure that those who are familiar with one or more of them – as long as they don't mind a few sacred cows being sacrificed (not literally!) – will get even more enjoyment out of this novel, but even for readers like myself with just a passing familiarity with them there's a huge amount to love here.

Very easy recommendation as one of my all-time favourites. Fancy a Christmas visit?

Further reading suggestion: If this has led you to take a look at more early 20th-century humour, can I recommend any of the Jeeves series – such as Thank You, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse?

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