Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

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Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Clare Reddaway
Reviewed by Clare Reddaway
Summary: Romantic short stories from the 1930s. Not as funny or as sharp as Cold Comfort Farm, but with a period charm and readability.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: November 2011
Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 978-0099528678

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Cold Comfort Farm is one of my favourite books. It's funny, arch, mannered and has a particularly strong authorial voice. I re-read it recently, and it still made me laugh. I had never read any of Stella Gibbons' other books, so I was thrilled to see the re-publication of 'Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm', a series of short stories by Gibbons, published in 1940, eight years after her classic appeared.

First things first. There's only one story in this collection about Cold Comfort Farm. This is a story about the farm before Flora Poste arrives, a 'prequel' if you like. It features the Starkadder family at Christmas, with a dispute over a coffin-nail and it did make me smile. I suspect it is one for fans, however. For instance, the appearance of a teenage Dick Hawk-Monitor, already in love with Elfine, shoots a knowing wink at the devoted but would leave most readers cold.

The other stories in this volume are in a different vein. On the whole they are romantic, often featuring women of a certain age with cool grey eyes and an understated beauty. The stories are neat and well-plotted, with fleshed out situations and satisfying resolutions. That they originally appeared in publications such as 'The Lady' and 'Good Housekeeping' might indicate the genre of story that appears here. There is an old-fashioned feel to the shape and tone of the works that some might find unexciting and perhaps superficial.

When I started to read these stories I was disappointed, mainly because they are not funny. I missed the sharp wit of Gibbons' classic. I missed the irony that infuses that book and the surreal absurdity of the portrait she paints of Cold Comfort. The stories in this volume are instead very real. The wit, where it appears, is wry and provokes a gentle smile rather than a laugh.

However, once I had forgotten about Gibbons' other work, I began to find these stories compelling. They are set in an England that is both recognisable and completely alien. Although the book was published in 1940, the war is not mentioned. World War One is referred to as 'The Four Year War'. Women of society – middle-class, affluent society that is – are observed acutely as they party, weekend in the country, go to the races, work or domesticate, marry or remain single, fall in and out of love. A particular favourite of mine was 'Cake', featuring Jenny, a successful career woman on the point of divorce, who visits and interviews an elderly suffragette. 'Cake' in the title refers to having your cake and eating it, the perennial female preoccupation of how to have a successful career and combine it with children, which is still a hot topic today. I found that the stories were fascinating as period pieces, providing a snapshot of a particular slice of society at a particular moment in 20th century history.

This book is certainly worth reading. The stories are satisfying and well-observed. For me, my main enjoyment derived from the social history I found in the pages, rather than any profound revelations about human nature, but the book is readable and amusing. Fans of 'Cold Comfort Farm' might not find their thirst for 'more of the same' quenched.

Further reading suggestions:

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Conference at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Westwood by Stella Gibbons

For other short stories, still Bristish but contemporary, try:

The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam

Collected Stories by Janice Galloway

In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson

Buy Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons at Amazon.com.

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