Stella Gibbons’s collection of short stories, Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, chooses as its subject matter London life in the 1930s. With a sharp eye for detail and a sympathy for the human predicament, this superb set of stories explores the complexity of relationships and the fraught emotions they engender, all written in a wonderfully open and clear style that is like a warm breeze on a spring day.
The title of this volume makes it sound like it’s a new Cold Comfort Farm novel. Obviously, the temptation to cash in on Cold Comfort Farm's huge success was irresistible (hence the opportunism of the title), yet only one story reprises the Cold Comfort Farm characters, albeit with a Christmas twist. The rest of the stories are stand alone gems that can be enjoyed at any time of the year, highlighting the author at her most charming and delightful.
Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm was published in 1940, and I presume most of the stories were written in the late 30s. Gibbons concentrates on writing about what she knows best, and all of the stories deal with London life, friends, marriages and the vicissitudes of human relationships. Gibbons has a sharp eye for detail and is a shrewd observer of complex relationships, and can describe difficult and fraught emotions in a wonderfully warm and clear style. The genuineness and honesty in these stories, combined with a great generosity of spirit, make them a true literary delight. I dreaded the end of this book.
It’s a mystery why Cold Comfort Farm has always been in print, and the rest of her books have gone missing in action. Cold Comfort Farm, to me, is inferior to every other Gibbons book I’ve read, yet it’s the perennial favourite. The stories in this collection have not dated one bit. At their heart they beat with a freshness and essential human vitality that ensures their longevity.
For those looking for an excellent introduction to Stella Gibbons, this is a good place to start.
Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons. Published by Vintage Classics. ISBN: 978009956597 RRP: $12.95