100 novels: Cold Comfort Farm

I am reading the Telegraph’s “100 novels everyone should read” list. You can follow my progress on the twitter hashtag #100novels.

This review will contain spoilers.

Cold Comfort Farm

This is one of those super quick reads that you can blaze through in an afternoon. It is, nonetheless, a richly detailed story full of the use of symbolism. A parody of rural novels of the time, it contains the infamous “something nasty in the woodshed”. The book as a whole is a bracing ‘stop wallowing about in your emotions, get over yourselves and clean this mess up’, but is delivered with a fair amount of humour and flair so I didn’t really mind.

Weirdly, there is a sort of science-fiction element to it. Aeroplanes dropp by to people’s homes, Flora talks to her significant other using a phone/television hybrid straight out of Star Trek (yet the rest of the time communicates by telegram) and the book references fictional wars that happened in the future (at least from the perspective of the time the book was written). It doesn’t appear to add anything to the plot, and could easily be completely missed. It just seems to be there to make the book a bit ‘quirky’.

My one argument against the book, which is otherwise a fun read, is that Flora encounters almost no resistance in her bid to clean up Cold Comfort Farm. At the start we have this beautiful set-up, of a chic, London ‘lady-of-leisure’ coming into this chaotic farm, and then each of her plans – getting Elfine married, turning Seth into a movie star, convincing the Aunt to stop flailing in bed and go on a holiday around the world – come off without a hitch. Those that might oppose her plans are easily dealt with (the most notable of which is Urk, who, upon hearing that the women betrothed to him since childhood is to be married to someone else, does not throw a fit, but instead turns to the nearest single woman and says ‘you’ll do’)

The result is that Flora herself does not seem to be at all changed by her experience, and the other characters become merely pawns that allow themselves to be pushed around quite willingly. Once you realise this, the rest of the story contains no suspense, and the jigsaw puzzle pieces are extremely obvious (Flora knows a film producer, Seth is a smouldering bombshell who loves the ‘talkies’, well, hey, look what happens!)

Having said that, the book is amusing enough and satirical enough that it gets away with it, and being such a quick read is well worth a try.


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