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Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm
Stella Gibbons
233 pages

At 19, Flora Poste found herself orphaned and with almost no income or property. However, she approached this potentially dire situation with optimism, asking several distant relatives whether they would be able to take her in. She received several offers of varying degrees of merit, ultimately decided to make her home at Cold Comfort Farm, and very quickly moved from London to rural Sussex in southern England. Cold Comfort and its many characters form an amusing parody of English rural life. To start with, everything has a funny name: the Starkadder family; the village of Howling; the Condemn'd Man pub; the Church of the Quivering Brethren; cows named Feckless, Aimless, Graceless, and Pointless; and a bull named Big Business. And while some of the characters are typical farm workers, others have odd habits such as a fascination with water voles. The entire estate, such as it is, was ruled by Aunt Ada Doom who "saw something nasty in the woodshed" at a young age, rendering her unstable if not completely mad. At the time Flora came to Cold Comfort, Aunt Ada was nearly 80 and lived almost exclusively in her own quarters, yet she exercised a strangely high degree of control over the rest of the Starkadder family.
You told them you were mad. You had been mad since you saw something nasty in the woodshed, years and years and years ago. If any of them went away, to any other part of the country, you would go much madder. Any attempt by any of them to get away from the farm made one of your attacks of madness come on. It was unfortunate in some ways but useful in others... The woodshed incident had twisted something in your child-brain seventy years ago.

And seeing that it was because of that incident that you sat here ruling the roost and having five meals a day brought up to you as regularly as clockwork, it hadn't been such a bad break for you, that day you saw something nasty in the woodshed. (p. 115)

Flora, being well educated and refined, was clearly a fish out of water at Cold Comfort, but this did not stop her from taking on the farm as a kind of personal project. Her effort to "tidy up the farm" reached far beyond basic hygiene. Flora took selected Starkadder family members under her wing and "rehabilitated" each of them in her own way. There were many amusing situations described with clever prose. And yet, towards the end, the "over the top" nature of the characters began to wear on me, and I found it harder to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the book. However, this was a fun read and a nice break from heavier literature, and I can recommend it on that basis. ( )