Friday, May 27, 2016

Book Review - Stella Gibbons's Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: November 29th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

The Christmas pudding at Cold Comfort Farm will foretell the doom that is to happen in the coming year. Just pray you don't get the coffin nail. In sixteen stories staring everyone from the Starkadders to a young rich girl obsessed with a dancer, to a librarian who thinks she's in love with a writer who happens to be not what she thinks, to people with double standards who ruin the lives of others, Stella Gibbons's short stories are sweet but insightful and thankfully back in print. Fans of Cold Comfort Farm will revel in this chance to finally read some of her other writing and read the long unattainable Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm.

There is nothing more frustrating to a book addict like myself but to completely fall in love with an author and then find out that basically everything else they've ever written is out of print. Also note, that if you're an Anglophile who lives stateside, this is far more common then you'd think. Almost all of Dodie Smith is out of print here, unless you really want to read 101 Dalmatians, and you'd think by her shelves at bookstores and libraries that Daphne Du Maurier only wrote two books, Rebecca and Jamaica Inn. Usually Amazon UK can rectify these problems, but not always. Some authors are out of print across the board. I read Cold Comfort Farm so long ago that I quite literally don't remember when, but I knew I instantly wanted to read more by Stella Gibbons. Was this likely to happen? No.

I pined to read the two follow up books. How dare there be sequels, yes, plural, to Cold Comfort Farm that I couldn't get my hands on! I would literally do anything to get my hands on Conference at Cold Comfort Farm and Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, but neither trolling the used stores or the internet yielded me results. When I  finally went to college the main library had a copy of Conference at Cold Comfort Farm so part of my dreams came true. I was able to read and enjoy the story but I had to return it sadly. Interesting fact, I "forgot" to return it on time and had a $200 fine levied against me and my grades for the fall semester held because I had totally "forgot" to return it... luckily I called the library, begged forgiveness and they had the book that night. And my bedside table was a little bereft.

Because, they had the book and I didn't... Quite some time later on AbeBooks I finally found a reasonably priced copy of Conference at Cold Comfort Farm, and at least that book was now accounted for in my collection. That only left Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm. I would never even see this listed anywhere for months on end and then a copy would come up for sale for about $300 and then disappear the same day into the library of a collector with deep pockets. All this leads to the joyous day when Penguin Books decided to re-release Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm.

It was around the time of this announcement that I first realized that it was not a full book about the Starkadders but a collection of short stories. This made me actually really happy that even if I had had deep pockets that I hadn't splurged on this book. Collections of short stories are a mixed bag. When I finally picked this book up over the holidays to get into the festive mood I was even more grateful for my discretion. The truth of the matter is that the story "Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm" was a dud. I did not like it one bit. Well, maybe one bit, and that bit was the Reverend visiting on the first page, after that, straight downhill. Plus, it was a prequel! Ah, prequels, how often have you gone wrong? The answer is very.

And now you're thinking, she hated the story and yet four stars? The reason is the mixed bag theory. The story I most looked forward to was a big letdown, all the rest I had no expectations for and while all entertained, there were a few that were so sublime, so perfect, they should be up there with some of the finest short stories of Daphne Du Maurier. While some of the overtones of the stories are a little anti-feminist for today's readers, seeing that a home and a man is what makes your life settled, they still have a depth that is surprising for such short tales and it really gets you thinking.

Yet the story that just blew me away was "The Murder Mark" about two men in a town who get together and talk. One of them is a chemist and is running a failing business and happens to be obsessed with palmistry (yeah, Gibbons's characters do tend to be an obsessive lot), the other is a writer of crime fiction. The two are talking over a horrid crime that happened recently across the street and discussing the theory that murderers always come back to the scene of the crime. With a wink and a nod to crime writers and overtones of Jack the Ripper, this story made me stay up way past my bedtime to finish the tale. I would recommend you buy it just to read this one story... seriously, it is that good. "Golden Vanity" though is a strong contender for second place! Nom de plume shenanigans! But check your copy before you buy it, mine had a whole bunch of pages fall out near the end of the book. Bad Penguin, bad! You should know how to do binding right!


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