Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons — Reviewed by Guy Portman

Although harbouring concerns about countryside living, recently orphaned, 19-year-old Flora Poste decides to go and live with relatives in rural Sussex. Her destination, the ramshackle and backward Cold Comfort Farm, is no bucolic utopia. Inhabited by the Starkadders and their extended family, this eccentric and troubled clan is presided over by Aunt Ada Doom, an aged, reclusive matriarch. Other characters include Flora’s apologetic cousin Judith, her hellfire preacher husband Amos, and the couple’s progeny — womaniser Seth, agriculture-obsessed Reuben and elusive Elfine.

Life on the farm is poised to change with the sophisticated and interfering new arrival determined to revive the inhabitants and establish orderliness. The narrative follows Flora’s well-intentioned efforts.

Light-hearted and wryly humorous, this satirical work lampoons the romanticised, often doom-laden ‘loam and lovechild’ novels of the 19th and early 20th century, particularly Mary Webb’s The House in Dormer Forest.

Whilst the author possesses an impressive turn of phrase and trenchant wit, this is a repetitive work, boasting a smug and rather tiresome heroine. In order to appreciate the satirical elements, the reader will require a more in-depth knowledge of the genre it parodies than I.

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