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Cold Comfort Farm: 08/04/15

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons:

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is another of those books on a long personal list of titles I've heard people talk about all myself and somehow have only gotten to now. It's also among a short list I can remember my grandmother describing as the books she read one handed at the detriment of her chores and cooking.

Flora Poste is looking to put off making her way in the world by seeking a relative to live with and perhaps work for until she figures out what she actually wants to do with her life. Of all the dozens of letters she sends out, the only reply is from Aunt Ada Doom of Cold Comfort Farm.

Now Cold Comfort Farm is the British version of Jalna (and the two novels are contemporaries). It's another farm fallen on hard times, being run by an extremely elderly matriarch, inhabited by multiple generations of people to scared to modernize lest they upset the past glories they are so desperate to hang on to.

Toss in a newbie — in this case, a distant cousin who is unaware of some previous debt the family in question feels they owe to her family. As the newbie, and as someone used to the modern conveniences and liberal attitudes of the big city, she can see the farm for its true state.

Now in the case of Jalna, the arrival of a bride from New York is played for drama. Here, though, it's done for humor. Aunt Doom has spent her entire life, save for select nights where she counts her family, locked away in her room, reeling from the "something nasty" she saw in the woodshed when she was a child. Sure it was traumatizing but she's made her flailing about into an art form.

But with a pluckiness that's one part Anne Shirley and perhaps two parts Miss Phryne Fisher, Flora Poste snaps the family out of its fugue and manages to help modernize it some. As it's a comedy, it ends with a marriage (though not hers).

Now, besides hearing about this book all my life, I also came to it by way of the recent film adaptation. The book is fun and I'm sure I would have enjoyed it the other way around (book first, film second) but I did have fun replaying favorite scenes in my head as I read through the chapters.

Five stars

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