‘Cold Comfort Farm’ by Stella Gibbons tells the story of nineteen year old Flora Poste who decides to track down her long lost cousins out in the Sussex countryside on Cold Comfort Farm after the sudden death of her parents. As soon as she is confronted by her strange relatives, Flora immediately sets about trying to change things on the farm with each character having their own particular problem that needs resolving. However, her modern middle-class outlook frequently clashes with the rural way of life as she helps them to adapt to the twentieth century.
Having not read many of the authors that Gibbons has parodied in ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, I think some parts of the humour were a little bit lost on me but if you are even slightly familiar with the typical features of ‘rural’ classic novels such as the work of Thomas Hardy then it is still a worthwhile read. Unlike ‘Lucky Jim‘ by Kingsley Amis which I have also read recently, the humour in ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ is generally more accessible for modern readers even though it was first published some twenty years earlier than Amis’s work. At least the irony in ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ is very hard to miss, whereas I think there will be people who have read ‘Lucky Jim’ without realising that it was meant to be a comic novel.
The first few chapters of ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ start very promisingly when Flora is deciding which of her relatives she should live with after suddenly finding herself orphaned and almost penniless. The writing is firmly tongue-in-cheek from the very beginning: “(Flora) was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living”. However, I was expecting a bit more from the characters living at Cold Comfort Farm and in some cases, I think the parodies were overdone a bit and may have benefited from being a bit more subtle. I was also puzzled by why Gibbons chose to set the book in the near future as it doesn’t make much difference to the actual story.
I thought ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ was quite an eccentric book with regard to both the characters and in the way it was written. I knew before I read it that the story was meant to be light-hearted and comic but I hadn’t realised that it was going to be quite so strange! ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ has a certain kind of charm but it isn’t a book I am likely to revisit in the future.