I’ve previously posted on the joy of comic novels and how undervalued they are compared to their more serious counterparts but on balance I have still read far more dramatic novels than funny ones. This is partly due to the subjective nature of humour and the difficulty of writing comedy well. After a particularly gruelling ‘serious’ read I was in bad need of a light relief, which is how I stumbled across Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm.
It has one of those iconic titles that I was familiar with without knowing anything about the book itself, a bit like The Unbearable Lightness of Being or Remeberance of Things Past. Julie Burchill, who wrote the blurb on the Penguin edition I read, describes it as ‘very possibly the funniest book ever written’. Well it’s not the funniest book I’ve ever read (that’s still a tie between The Man Who was Thursday and A Confederacy of Dunces) but it has a satisfying lightness and a bit of frivolity about it. Our heroine is the redoubtable Flora Poste, a sort of 20th century Emma Woodhouse, uprooted from her urban upbringing to the Sussex countryside where she busies herself tidying the messy lives of her bumpkin cousins and breaking the matriarchy of Aunt Ada Doom. Only Charles, the London love interest she leaves behind, knows her true heart. He tells her he doesn’t appove of people who interfere with other people’s lives,
“Flora heard this with delight.
‘Shall I be allowed to interfere with yours?’ she asked. Like all really strong-minded women on whom everybody flops, she adored being bossed about. It was so restful.
‘No’, said Charles. And he grinned at her disrespectfully…..”
A thoroughly feminist and modern novel that parodies the rural idyll, it also has a beautifully happy ending which pleased me no end,
“She glanced upwards for a second at the vault of the midsummer night sky. Not a cloud misted its solemn depths. Tomorrow would be a beautiful day.”