Saturday, May 25, 2013

Conference at Cold Comfort Farm

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Stella Gibbons’ sequel to her famous debut novel Cold Comfort Farm is a fun entertainment that lampoons the artistic and intellectual movements of the 1940s. Despite the novel’s age, its satire still has plenty of relevance and bite.

Stella Gibbons wrote this follow up to Cold Comfort Farm some 17 years after the original was published in 1932. The year 1949, when Conference at Cold Comfort Farm was published, must have been a busy one for Gibbons as she published the quite substantial The Matchmaker that same year. At 160 pages, Conference at Cold Comfort Farm is a slim effort, and it serves more as a bit of fun when compared with her more serious works. At heart, this sequel is a straight out comedy, showcasing Gibbons’ razor sharp satiric skills.

Sixteen Years On…

It is sixteen years since Flora Poste’s first visit to Cold Comfort Farm. She is now married to Charles Fairford and has five children. She discovers that Cold Comfort Farm has gone off the rails somewhat. After the Ministry overlooking agriculture discovers the farm is not keeping up with new productivity measures, some of the Starkadder men are persuaded to sell it to the Weavers’ Whim Trust. The farm is soon turned into a twee museum piece, replete with peasant pottery and Toby jugs, and hired out for conferences and meetings. Enter Mr Mybug (readers will remember him from the original Cold Comfort Farm) and the International Thinkers Group, who decide to hold a week-long conference there.

If the farm has been sold off, where are Flora’s eccentric cousins? The Starkadder men have decided to take up farming in South Africa! It is now left to the redoubtable Flora to effect the return of the men. Meanwhile, the International Thinkers Group, with their pretentious collective of artists, writers, philosophers and scientists, are running riot.

In this clever and witty sequel, Gibbons may have been lampooning the intellectual and artistic movements of some sixty years ago, but the satire still has lots of bite.  In fact, her targets have not changed that much from today. Whilst reading Conference I was constantly reminded of British shows like Grand Designs and Country House Rescue, where old churches and farm houses are either re-purposed as lifestyle resorts or completely gutted by modernist architects and filled with minimalist interiors.

Conference at Cold Comfort Farm meshes two great British genres, nonsense literature and satire. The novel’s quick wit and energy recalls writers like Ronald Firbank, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens. Gibbons’ sequel to her most famous novel is a great entertainment that shimmers with an effortless wit that never misses its target.

Conference at Cold Comfort Farm
, by Stella Gibbons. Published by Vintage Classics. ISBN: 9780099528685  RRP: $12.95