Nineteen year old Flora Poste has just been orphaned. She doesn’t want to work – why work if you can easily live off others? – so she sets out to mooch off her extended family until she decides to marry, which will, of course, settle her financially for life! She is welcomed to join her distant cousins the Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm, where everything’s a little bit off. The farm supposedly has a curse on it, and all the Starkadders who live there are constrained by the elderly matron of the family, Aunt Ada Doom. Because Aunt Ada “saw something nasty in the woodshed” as a child, she has gone mad and threatens to get worse if any of the Starkadders leave the farm. Flora is not one for chaos and disorder, however, and she’s determined on reshaping Cold Comfort Farm.
That description is just a tiny glimpse of the satire that is Cold Comfort Farm. This book was recommended to me about a year ago by my friend Kim, who likened it to one of my short stories (also a satire). It was right around Christmas when she told me this, so for some bizarre reason I associate this book with Christmas. Considering the book takes place from spring to summer, that makes no real sense, but hey, I decided to read it at Christmas anyway!
At first when I began the book, I had a hard time getting into it. The prose was a little dry, and the satire didn’t seem very funny. Oh there were silly names like Adam Lambsbreath and statements like “She liked Victorian novels. They were the only kind of novel you could read while you were eating an apple.” These things made me smile a bit, but on the whole, the first 75-100 pages of this novel were a bit dull for me. But I stuck to the book, and I’m glad I did, because then it took a swing towards hilarious and I was laughing out loud the rest of the book. It all started with the introduction of the intellectual, Mr. Mybug, who says things like:
Hullo, Flora Poste. Do you believe that women have souls?
Sooner or later we should have to tackle the problem of homosexuality. We should have to tackle the problem of Lesbians and old maids.
and who talks about nothing but sex and his book, wherein he “proves” that Branwell Bronte actually wrote all the Bronte sisters’ novels. Mr. Mybug would normally be a disgusting character, except that his entire purpose in the novel is for us to laugh at people like him (I read somewhere that he’s supposed to be a loose portrayal of DH Lawrence, which I admit made me chuckle a little).
Every character is meant to spear a personality type. I just couldn’t stop laughing as, for instance, the psychiatrist diagnoses his eight-month old baby with paranoid tendencies or when Adam Lambsbreath gets weepy over the mop Flora gives him for washing dishes (and then hangs it on the wall because it’s so “pretty”). The whole book is meant to laugh at tropes in popular lit from the time period, as well as older authors like Thomas Hardy and the Brontes. While I’ve never read a lot of popular lit from the early 20th century (just classics mostly), I definitely recognize the satire as applied to some of the 1800s classics. It made me giggle, even if I like Hardy and the Brontes!
One of the best things about this satire, though, is that it’s not a tragicomedy. (Not that tragicomedies are bad! I just wasn’t in the mood for one.) The satires I’ve read in the past tend to turn into poignant, biting tragedies by the end, books like Catch-22, or plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and I was not in the mood to be bitten when I read Cold Comfort Farm. This book does not turn sour. It had a nice, tidy happy ending! Of course, the ending itself is a satire of happy endings, but still, at least it didn’t end by making me feel awful. For my last book of 2010, I needed that happy ending, satire or not! This was a great end-of-year read, and Christmasy or not, a perfect holiday book as well!