Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cold Comfort Farm

My ambitious stack of books was ignored this week in order to read a book on a whim. Twice in one day was Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons raved about on various and sundry blogs that I read. I took that as a sign and decided to read it. I had seen the quirky movie based on the book and loved it. The Third Law of Book Physics states that "The book will always be better than the movie." The Second Law is "You can never own too many books unless you would have to start eating them in order to leave your house." and The Fourth Law is "If a book's title is in much smaller print than the author's name, the author has a gigantic ego and you shouldn't give him more money."

Back to the quirky British goodness that is Cold Comfort Farm. I've been making a mental list of all the people I know who would love to read this book; that is, people who love all things British and all thing quirky. It's a long list. Does this mean I have weird friends? I sure hope so! They are much more interesting. Flora Poste, our heroine, having been expensively educated and fluent in all proper social behaviors, is orphaned at the age of 20 and finds herself with nearly nothing as an inheritance. Instead of going to work, she decides to pick a relative to live with, based on the criteria that they must be interesting, dysfunctional and in need of her special expertise in making things tidy. The book was originally published in 1932, so there are quite a few allusions that I didn't catch, but the characters were timeless. By that I mean kooky.

Flora picks the Starkadders as her project and informs them that she will be moving in shortly. They accept her since, apparently, a wrong was committed to her father and she is owed her rights. This is intriguing enough for her to move out into the country into a delapitated farm house on an unsuccessful farm. The house is filled with an assortment of crazy relatives, the matriarch being Flora's Aunt Ada Doom, who is a few tacos short of a combination platter. She shouts, "I saw something nasty in the woodshed!" all throughout the book, but nobody knows what it is she saw. She's a tyrant that rules with an iron fist from the bedroom she only leaves twice a year.

The characters make the book. From Judith, Flora's cousin, who pines away in her room and adores her son, Seth, who is a ruggedly handsome misogynist and lover of movies. Judith's other son, Reuben, takes care of everything on the farm and hates his father, Amos, for never letting him take charge. Amos is a preacher who only preaches hellfire and damnation and vows to never let Reuben take over the farm. Then there's Elfine who roams the woods and fields, Meriam the ever-pregnant hired girl, Adam the ninety-year-old hired hand, Mr. Mybug who thinks he's in love with Flora and the list goes on. If you're curious about how all the characters fit together, there's a genealogical chart in wikipedia. Very informative.

Once Flora meets everyone and diagnoses all their various eccentricities and ailments, she sets about correcting all that is wrong at Cold Comfort Farm. Elfine gets a make-over, Adam gets a scrubbing mop, Seth gets an introduction to a movie producer, Amos gets an idea planted in his brain, Judith gets some psychoanalysis and Aunt Ada Doom gets the best treatment of them all. I'll leave that for you to discover. Stella Gibbons leaves some secrets unrevealed and I found myself satisfied with not knowing. Flora gets herself a happy ending as well and she rides off into the sunset having saved Cold Comfort Farm and it's inhabitants.

So thoroughly did I enjoy this book that I'm going to watch the movie again. I know The Third Law of Book Physics states that it won't be the same, but even if it's close enough, it'll be a fun ride.


  1. I hope I was on your list of "weird friends" because I'm going to put this on my holds list right now.

  2. I love this book! And I have to say that it is one of the few time I felt the movie and the book were on the same level.

  3. I was also worried about the book ruining the movie, because it's one of my favorites. And I always worry about reading the book after seeing a movie, because then I have the actors in my head, and no imagination. But, like Rachel said, the book and movie are equally enjoyable. I even watched the movie right after reading the book and thoroughly enjoyed it (There'll be no butter in hell!).

  4. This sounds like a very intriguing and fun book! Thanks!

  5. Wow, this post took me back! I've only seen the movie once and haven't thought of it in years, but suddenly I remembered very vividly all these random details about the experience! Now I'm curious to read it and see how the book compares with my impression of the movie. Definitely kooky! I wonder what my book club would think of it....?