Cold Comfort Farm

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons

This book is supposed to be hilarious. I heard over and over again how funny it was. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at all those morose “finding oneself in the English countryside” novels. But I just didn’t think it was funny. I felt about this book the way I felt about A Confederacy of Dunces; on paper I should have loved them, but in actually reading them, I couldn’t make myself like them. 

The characters in Cold Comfort Farm were too hollow, too fake to enjoy. Flora is a silly orphaned young woman who decides to live for the next 30 years sponging off her relatives. She moves to Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex with the intention of spending a few decades “gathering material” for a book she will one day right. 

Once she moves in with her distant relatives, the Starkadders, she starts trying to fix everyone’s lives. She gives her cousin Elfine a makeover and introduces another cousin, Seth, to a movie producer. 

The crazy old matriarch of the family spends all of her time shut up in her room telling everyone who comes near her that when she was young, she “saw something nasty in the woodshed.” Ok, we get it, and yet with all that moaning, we never find out what she saw!
Add to that Judith’s wailing and Amos’ preaching and the detestable advances of Maybug and it just didn’t work for me. The entire novel is built around characters you don’t like. I know it’s supposed to be a satire, but I just didn’t enjoy it. It’s one of the few times in my life that I’ve found the movie to be better than the book. The 1995 version is entertaining, but I still didn’t love it. 

There are definitely some funny lines, but for such a short book, it really dragged for me. So tell me people, what am I missing?

“My idea of hell is a very large party in a cold room, where everyone has to play hockey properly.”

“One of the disadvantages of almost universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired a familiarity with one’s favorite writers. It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one’s dressing-gown.”


Ana S. said...

I don't think you're missing anything, it's just a matter of personal taste. As you know I'm a big fan of Gibbons in general, but I actually prefer her other novels to this one. Sorry it didn't work for you, but can't love them all, right?

Jeanne said...

I think it's much funnier if you've read any of the kind of novels that were being published at that time, where progress is inevitable but always helped along by the clear-eyed young people. It's satire of those, but the means is often parody.

annieb said...

I haven't read Cold Comfort Farm and now I probably won't. I didn't like A confederancy of Dunces either when I read it a long time ago. Frankly, I have very bad luck with Pulitzer fiction for some reason. I usually like one in five. I remember your blog a while back about comedy clubs and when I went to one this past weekend and really didn't like it much, I thought of you. In my humble opinion (ha ha) humor is very subjective and personal and too much of it (as in a comedy routine) in one dose becomes boring and forced. Maybe it is the same with a book.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nymeth - That's true. I think my expectations were too high.

Jeanne - I didn't think about that. Your comment reminds me of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. I've had people tell me they didn't get that one, but I think you have to remember she was parodying the gothic mystery style of the time.

annieb - It really is so subjective! I hate comedy clubs because the performer can see whether or not you're laughing, so it feels so forced. If you aren't laughing out loud at all of their bits, they can see you and yell at you!

Kailana said...

That's too bad this didn't work better for you! I have heard lots about Gibbons, but have yet to read her...

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I actually really loved A Confederacy of Dunces but the humor in this one really didn't work for me. It would probably be better if I had read the kinds of books parodied here. I definitely want to try some other Gibbons books though to see if they work better for me.

Jenners said...

I was considering this for the reasons you stated in the beginning -- that is is known for being funny (which I never expected when I heard the title). But I suspect I might react similar to you so I'm more "cautious" now.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kailana - Can't win them all.

Bookworm1858 - I do think I should read another one of her books and see if it works for me.

Jenners - At least go into it with lower expectations.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I hated this when I read it a few years ago...I just didn't "get it."

Amanda said...

I read this a few years back and at first I didn't understand what the big deal was, but about 125 pages in, it suddenly got very funny to me. I was snickering at all the little jokes. I don't know. I think it's just a personal taste thing?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Melissa Mc - So glad it wasn't just me.

Amanda - There were some funny parts, but I agree personal taste has a lot to do with it.

Joanna Hennon said...

I didn't even finish this one, totally didn't do it for me. Glad I'm not alone!

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