Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The power of creation.

A great favourite of mine, and one of the best modern classics, is 'Cold Comfort Farm' by Stella Gibbons. It is a delightfully whimsical book which manages to subtly combine wit, humour and beautiful insights into what darling Miss Marple always referred to as human nature. Stella Gibbons is rightly remembered for this masterpiece and highly praised for it but her other masterpiece, 'Nightingale Wood' tends to be totally dismissed and forgotten yet for me although not absolutely reaching the great heights of genius that 'Cold Comfort Farm' gives us, the former is probably my favourite.

'Nightingale Wood' is a delicious modern fairytale in a way that reminds me very much of another great favourite of mine, 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day'. It has wonderfully true and poigniant insights into the human character, has an achingly romantic soul without being in any way cheap or maudlin about it, and by relating the character's lives in such a way as to incorporate their boredom and their longing for more it strikes a deep cord within me. It is the delightful story of a young widow called Viola (named after Shakespeare's for her father was a great devotee of the great man) who goes to live with her desperately dull in-laws and harbours vague and unlikely dreams about the local handsome young squire. It is perfectly splendid and so much more than a silly romance, though it always sounds suspiciously like one when one relates the general plot, but it is filled with such sharp insights into the characters and their desires and ultimately whether when they do all get what it is they thought they wanted, whether their previous desires give them fullfillment. I adore it and it fits delightfully inbetween my love for 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' and the books of Nancy Mitford whose 'Don't Tell Alfred' I am also re-reading, along with 'The Provincial Lady in London' by E. M Delafield. Though sadly the latter is pretty awful and the poor woman only wrote one good book, 'Diary of a Provincial Lady' which she then attempted to ruin by cashing in on her creation and writing another four books about, all of them  perfect rotters.

I love the feel of Stella Gibbon's books, or rather of the two already mentioned s I have not read any of her others since they are so hard to get hold of and not meant to be much cop. And the specific feel she creates is why 'Cold Comfort Farm' works so well for in one's ordinary live you can imagine what the protagonist would advice and instruct you to do and even hear her voice imperiously suggesting to you. In 'Nightingale Wood' the feel is also there and one becomes totally submerged in the characters and their lives, to such an extent that the feeling and the people live on with you for some time after the book has been read. It is not often that an author makes me feel like that, but the most powerful and memorable time was after reading 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' which lived with me for an age afterwards and is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. Interestingly there seems to be no particular type of book or author for this to happen as the only other example that was striking enough for me to remember off the top of my head is 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'.

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