Thursday, 27 August 2009

Conference at Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)

--The blurb--
"A sequel to the original Cold Comfort Farm, Conference at Cold Comfort Farm is set 16 years later and satirises the social and cultural scene of the period. The farm has been refurbished as a museum in faux-rustic style and becomes the venue for a conference of the International Thinkers' Group..."

--The review--
Having missed out on a bargainous copy of the exceedingly rare Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm on Ebay recently, I tried to take comfort in my other new acquisition: a copy of the almost-as-rare and just-as-bargainous Conference at Cold Comfort Farm.

The massive lapse in time between the plot of Conference at Cold Comfort Farm and its predecessor means that we have a whole lot of catching up to do in the first chapter alone. The tying up of the fates of the main characters seems rushed, and even though they don't really star in the rest of the story, it would have been fulfilling for readers to find out more about Flora's husband and children.

Equally, it would have been satisfying to find out more about the fates of Cold Comfort Farm's previous occupants (especially that of the slightly-crackers Aunt Ada Doom), but this is rather glossed over, which is a shame given the potential for amusing subplots and anecdotes that this could have yielded. However, despite these missed opportunities, Gibbons does at least have a lot of other solid material and extracts as much humour from this as is possible. She satirises academia and academic people with precision and wit, offering a welcome, more rusticated alternative to David Lodge's more modern academic satires, and, as usual, offers the reader rich descriptions of landscapes and conversations.

While it perhaps does not quite draw level with the original Cold Comfort Farm in terms of storyline quality and character depiction, Gibbons still creates a rattling good yarn, and leaves the reader wondering what could possibly be next in the Starkadders' ongoing saga.

Other works by Stella Gibbons*
Bassett (1933)
The Priestess, and other poems (1933)
Miss Linsey and Pa (1935)
Nightingale Wood (1938; republished with new illustrations by Sophie Dahl in 2009)
My American (1939)
Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm (1940)**
The Rich House (1941)
Ticky (1943)
The Bachelor (1944)
The Matchmaker (1949)
The Swiss Summer (1951)
Beside The Pearly Water (1954; short stories)
The Shadow of a Sorcerer (1955)
Here Be Dragons (1956)
White Sand and Grey Sand (1958)
The Weather at Tregulla (1962)
The Charmers (1965)
The Woods in Winter (1970)

*All of the following are available from Amazon marketplace at the time of writing, at (mostly) reasonable prices.
**very rare and often stratospherically expensive. This short story is available, however, in The Virago Book of Christmas (edited by Michelle Lovric).

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