When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organize other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and merciless parody of rural melodramas, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.
As stated above, Cold Comfort Farm is a perfect melodrama. It has a heroine forced into a situation due to circumstances beyond her control and various characters who all, in one way or another, require her guidance. Yet the twist in this is that Flora is not naive, she is intelligent and can see things for what they are. It is her choice to go and live with her relatives in Sussex; she does not have to go and she is aware that she probably won’t like what she sees when she gets there. She has already decided that anything or anyone that can be moulded into her view of the world will be; anything that requires her help and organisation will receive it. At first the book has echoes of Emma by Jane Austen; a young woman trying to help those around her even when her help might not be welcome. But as the story goes on it has more of a Mary Poppins/Nanny Mcphee feel to it; Flora is a woman who knows exactly what she is doing and is a force to be reckoned with.
What I liked about this book: Well the obvious one is Flora. She is different from most heroines you find in this sort of book. She is fully aware of her actions and the repercussions and faces up to her mistakes. She is very frank with the reader yet she does not lie to the characters she is involved with in the story, more that her manners always shine through when giving guidance to the various members of her new family. I also love the cows: Feckless, Aimless, Graceless and Pointless. Bless them, they seem to get ignored by everyone except the slightly mad, 90 year old farm hand Adam and with such unfortunate names they definitely stand out.
What I didn’t like about this book: It is supposed to be a comedy. If you read any of the original broadsheet reviews the general gist is that this book is hilarious. I think the comedy in this book does not transpose across the eighty years since it was published as I found it amusing, but not hilarious. As it is a melodrama I think most of the comedy is situation comedy and would be funnier if you lived in the period it is set in.
I definitely enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who has a fondness for period dramas or light-hearted stories. I will also investigate if Stella Gibbons published anything after this book as I feel it would be worth reading.