Something nasty in the woodshed – REVIEW of Cold Comfort Farm

I suppose quite a few people are familiar with this phrase (the one about the woodshed, I mean), and some people might even know where it comes from – I used it myself just the other day. However, I’d never read Cold Comfort Farm until now, and I regret not having done so before.

As a non-fan of D.H.Lawrence (as a novelist, though I do like a lot of his poetry), I particularly enojoyed the book, and it actually had me laughing out loud on the train as I read it.

For example:

…a tall young man whose riding-boots were splashed with mud to the thigh, and whose coarse linen shirt was open to his waist. The firelight lit up his diaphragm muscles as they heaved slowly in rough rhythm with the porridge.

Too many to mention. A wicked parody of not only Lawrence, but also of Hardy, Housman and other lesser exponents of the “loam and lovechild” genre of writing (most of which are happily unknown to me).

And let’s not forget “The Milk Producers’ Weekly Bulletin and Cowkeepers’ Guide” which makes an appearance in a climactic scene.

One thing I particularly liked was Stella Gibbons’ (ironic) use of one, two or three stars, along the lines of Michelin Guides Verts, to mark out particularly striking (i.e., pseudo-literary) passages. For example:

***The man’s big body, etched menacingly against the bleak light that stabbed in from the low windows, did not move. His thoughts swirled like a beck in spate behind the sodden grey furrows of his face. A woman … Blast! Blast! Come to wrest away from him the land whose love fermented in his veins like slow yeast. She-woman. Young, soft-coloured, insolent. His gaze was suddenly edged by a fleshy taint. Break her. Break. Keep and hold and hold fast the land. The land, the iron furrows of frosted earth under the rain-lust, the fecund spears of rain, the swelling, slow burst of seed-sheaths, the slow smell of cows and cry of cows, the trampling bride-pride of the bull in his hour. All his, his

‘Will you have some bread and butter?’ asked Flora, handing him a cup of tea. ‘Oh, never mind your boots. Adam can sweep the mud up afterwards. Do come in.’

Defeated, Reuben came in.

Genius. Sheer genius.

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but then, it is a fantasy and the sheer wit of the writing, with all its pseudo-rustic vocabulary and turns of phrase, makes up for it.

Oh, child, child, was it for this that I cowdled thee as a mommet?

And there I will leave you to discover the joys of Cold Comfort Farm for yourselves if you haven’t already done so.