Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Nightingale Wood (Stella Gibbons)

--The blurb--
"There's a beautiful poor maiden, an irate, miserly father (in-law), two unlovely sisters (in-law), and a not-so-charming prince who makes our heroine a suggestion that's really not quite proper..."

--The review--
In rereleasing Nightingale Wood with trendy new illustrations and getting Sophie Dahl to write an introduction to the novel, it seems that the publishers are doing everything they can to spruce up Gibbons' oeuvre. While most well-known for classic Cold Comfort Farm, Gibbons was fairly prolific in her lifetime, putting out poetry as well as novels. So is Nightingale Wood any good?

A modern twist on the Cinderella story, Gibbons builds the scenario well with her powers of observation and description. She is sharp and detailed, and even if we don't feel much rapport with the characters, we are drawn in. The burgeoning relationship between sister-in-law Tina and the family chauffeur is amusing, even if it all feels slightly bittersweet by the end, and Gibbons is very much in control, manipulating the reader into the suspense of the will-they-won't-they seesaw between Violet and Victor. Wryly comic and hugely readable, Gibbons takes readers on a journey through the twists and turns of high society. Conflict is created with dexterity and the resolutions offered are mostly of the satisfying variety.

The setting with which we are presented in Nightingale Wood provides light relief compared to the perhaps danker setting of Cold Comfort Farm and its sequel. Some may find it difficult to find the humour in Gibbons' works due to the amount of time that has elapsed since their original release or due to cultural or generational differences, but in true British style, the humour is there: you just have to go digging for it. For more obvious comedy from a similar period, you may wish to look to the works of Nancy Mitford, but to my mind, it is still apparent that Stella Gibbons' novels are largely hidden gems that still have a lot to offer any discerning bookshelf.

Other works by Stella Gibbons (selection)
Cold Comfort Farm (1932)
The Rich House (1941)
The Bachelor (1944)
The Matchmaker (1949)
The Swiss Summer (1951)
Here Be Dragons (1956)
The Weather At Tregulla (1962)
The Wolves Were In The Sledge (1964)

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