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Cold Comfort Farm – Review

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I’ve decided to do a mini-review of each book in the following format:

Cold Comfort Farm

Published: 1932
Pages: ~230
Completed: Yes
Enjoyed: Yes

Seriousness: Satire
Genre: Rural Melodrama with a hint of sci-fi (video phones, Anglo-Nicaraguan War of ’46)
Difficulty: Moderate – some characters have thick accents, several neologisms describing farm life, occasional ultra-violet prose
Rating: PG – adult themes (nothing liable to scar the kiddies, but they probably wouldn’t get the jokes, so wouldn’t be interested)

Recommend: Yes, provided you’re not too invested in “literature” to be able to laugh at it

Up next … (affects thick Romanian accent) … a certain Count by the name of … Dracula!

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Posted by on April 17, 2010 in Cold Comfort Farm, Review

 

One down…

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107 to go.

I found the finale a little disappointing, to be honest. Narrative theory would suggest a story builds towards a final overcoming of the major obstacle facing the protagonist, and Cold Comfort Farm sets this up to be Flora’s confrontation with Aunt Ada “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” Doom. Having been built up over the preceding chapters, it’s rather a non-event. We don’t see what Flora and Aunt Ada talk about during their hours-long discussion, but it seems to amount to Flora saying “Why don’t you do something fun for a change?”. Mind you, maybe the anti-climax is another deliberate poke at common writing practice.

I’m glad that eventually someone called Flora on being an interfering busybody. I find it an interesting quirk of stories; because novels are often presented from the protagonist’s viewpoint (whether written first-person or not), you side with the protagonist, even when they are engaged in actions you consider to be questionable (behaving like an anti-hero rather than a traditional hero).

The same doesn’t hold true for other characters; you are not presented with their perspective – you don’t “get inside their head”, if you will – so you can still maintain a certain distance, thinking “that’s a horrible thing to do”. You often think that with the antagonist (typically when they are indulging in a kick the dog* moment) as they are opposing “your” character.

With the protagonist, you are, in a way, participating in their unfolding story, sharing their struggles and their triumphs, but also potentially making you an accessory to their crimes. I’m curious as to whether this holds true for things that you consider morally repugnant (assuming there are any novels where the protagonist commits some such atrocity). Essentially, is there a point at which an anti-hero ceases to be sympathetic? I rather suspect there is, given people’s apparent reactions to some stories, but where that point is probably varies depending on your personal morals (how bad you consider a particular action to be) and how well written the story is (how deeply engaged you are).

* Beware that this link goes to a site called “TV Tropes”, which is fascinating (if occasionally crude), but also a well-known timesink.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2010 in Cold Comfort Farm

 

A closer look at the farm

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Sure enough, Cold Comfort Farm continues into complete ridiculousness (in a good way). The characters are all insane in their own way; exaggerated from life, and combined in order to show just how silly their behaviour is. Small wonder no self-respecting student of literature has published a detailed analysis; besides the uncomfortable feeling of being laughed at (satire directed at oneself always feels more cutting), they would be missing the point. Yes, there are wonderful uses of neologism, metaphor, imagery, etc. Yes, particular details are highly symbolic. However, the passages of particularly ultra-violet prose (purple but more so), the author has expressly marked so as to say “Here’s a good bit!”. That defeats the purpose – part of the study is identifying the particularly lyrical passages.

That brings up a general point about literary criticism and interpretation, but I’ll probably make a separate post on that later.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2010 in Cold Comfort Farm