For someone who has read Cold Comfort Farm, I was so excited to find this book, however I was disappointed to discover the title is misleading. Instead of being further adventures from Cold Comfort Farm, it is actually a compilation of short stories by Stella Gibbons and Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm is only one of them. And to add further disappointment, only one or two of them even remotely mentions Christmas. Fool me once, and all that ……
In any case, for a book of short stories they were quite interesting, even if they were mostly missing the Christmas theme.
The Little Christmas Tree
Thirty-three year old Miss Rhoda Harting is a single spinster who makes her living as a writer. Retiring to a cottage in Buckinghamshire one Christmas season she finds herself lonely, a stark contrast to her usually reclusive yet positive character. On Christmas Day she encounters three children at her door who are attracted by her tiny Christmas tree in the window of her cottage. After lunch and a wild story, the arrival of their father sets up a question: is Rhoda destined to live life as a spinster or will love rearrange her carefully ordered life?
Christmas at cold comfort Farm
Set years before Flora Post arrived to tidy up Cold Comfort Farm, the Vicar Hearsay decides to bestow a Christmas visit on its occupants. From there we are given a snapshot of the odd goings-on exhibited by Ada Doom, Judith, Amos, Elfine, Adam, etc. The ending, on Gibbons part, was as peculiar as their behaviours. I can’t say that I enjoyed this one very much, as it didn’t set up like a story.
To love and cherish
After twenty years of marriage, Mrs. Carter is sick of her husband, Peter. Leaving a “Dear John” note, she heads off to London to find a job, the first step in her new independent life. But the outcome is not what Carrie Carter expects and instead of seizing life, rather life unexpectedly seizes Carrie with a finale that is both surprising and expected.
The Murder mark
The unhappily married chemist, Mr. Pavey, is not an unhappy man in his own right. He takes enjoyment in his mundane life with books, walks and a friendship with the local celebrity, a writer named Mr. Niven. One evening, their visit is interrupted by a customer with a beautiful hand and Pavey, an amateur palmist, requests to read it. What transpires from there is a possible solution to a mystery of which I will not speak. But if anyone reads this and can share their interpretation of the last line of the story, I’d appreciate it.
The Hoofer and the lady
Alicia lives with an elderly aunt and one evening is taken to the stage where she spots a very charming “hoofer” or dancer. Ignoring an older admirer, she is taken with this new young man and imagines herself in love. Will the love be returned or will the outcome be unexpected and surprising?
Miss Elaine Garfield overhears a story of a village girl becoming pregnant and, given her charitable nature, immediately feels sympathy for her. In an act of exaggerated kindness, she dismisses her servant and takes the girl on, hoping to have a beneficent influence on her. But when a secret is revealed, it is perhaps Miss Garfield who deserves the pity in an unexpected turn of events.
The Walled Garden
Okay, here’s a story I liked because it seemed to go somewhere and have a clear message (although the last one was quite interesting too). Susie Wilson is now married to a village doctor; they have two children and live in a house with a walled garden. However, once she was a roaming bachelorette who tried to solve all the plights of others with her two roommates, Mike and Noel. When the said friends come to visit bringing the less-than-welcome, Helga, the contrasts of the “then” and “now” become starkly apparent to Susie. Time moves on and we change with it, and even if those changes are good, the resulting losses can be regretted. Allegiances change as well as those we care about.
“A marriage has got to have a wall around it —- like a garden. Inside the wall everything’s safe. It’s got to be so that the fruit can grow ..”
A charming man
George’s father is such a charming man. Everyone says so. Mrs. Millard is wrong for the town and although she’s rich and privileged, the town wants nothing to do with her. But when she is found dead with an empty bottle under her pillow, rumours of her spread in a manner that is unpleasant, and the reader is left to wonder if George’s father is such a charming man. This was a really odd story. I’m not sure I quite understand it.
Something to do with racing and a girl who is enamoured of a famous novelist. Sadly, when one lives in fantasy-land, fantasies can burst like bubbles and reality can be a hard teacher.
Poor, poor black sheep
Mr. Basil Merryn returns to England from a ten-year exile in Brazil brought on by his part in a scandalous divorce. Part of the fast crowd before he left, Basil meets up with Pompey Taverner, an old friend of his who is still firmly entrenched in a party-filled, frivolous, pleasure-seeking existence. Basil, a lady-killer, is eager to reconnect with people he once knew in hopes of snagging a pretty young girl as a wife or even just as an admirer. But Basil is not prepared for the changes ten years can make and the resulting experiences bring both humour and pity to the reader’s heart. I really enjoyed this one!
More than kind
Oh my goodness, Mrs. Lillian Wardell certainly is! She welcomes her husband’s ex-wife whenever she decides to drop by for a long stay to visit the children. After all, her husband, Ian, says it’s the kindest, most civilized way to behave. As long as you accept whatever people decide to do and support their actions you are kind. Yet, Sophie’s visits invariably upset the family home; her bohemian behaviour and her vivacious and untempered actions act like an unsuspected poison as their effect is cloaked by her charm. She brings excitement and excitement should be desired above all else. Will Lillian’s final break with modern views bring peace or unrest to this family? I really liked this story too!
THe Friend of Man
Pandora is a friend of man. Sadly, while she listens to their problems and is valued for her sympathetic nature, none seem to see her as a romantic interest in spite of her attractions. But this time Pandora vows it will be different as she is determined to get Roger to see her as a love interest even though he is embroiled in continual drama with his ex, Norah. Then Stanley Carter enters the scene, an out-of-towner who is rough and uncultured, yet is stable and sincere and rather simple, qualities that Pandora is not used to, and he falls deeply in love with her. Will Pandora be able to adapt to a new normal man or will her past actions and expectations hold her fast? Another good story by Gibbons.
TAme Wild Party
A tame young girl at a wild, wild, party. A bartender who cannot hold his drink. A lady with the real name of Tranquil Gay. A unexplained scrabbling sound in the next room. A little girl who wants a drink. A monkey named Al Capone. Put it together and what do you have? An unusual story ….
A Young man in rags
Nancy is a young woman who has taken up painting and who frequently falls in love. One day she sees a young man in rags on the embankment and tries to give him some money. The charitable act leads to the man posing as a model for her, which leads to a car ride, which leads to other interesting revelations.
Jenny is divorcing her staid, practical and contented husband after his fling with another woman. She is a successful woman driven by ambition, never wanted a family and wonders why she married Rickey in the first place. But when she visits Miss Maude Allworton, a pioneering feminist of yesteryear, she sees what the former Suffragette has sacrificed for “The Cause”. Instead of happiness, there are regrets and Miss Allworton admits that she does not believe women are better off because of her efforts. Will Jenny be able to save what she is losing, be able to have her cake and eat it too?
MR. Amberly’s Brother
Mr. Amberly does not like his carefully cultivated life to be disturbed by anything unpleasant. Unpleasant, such as a former love, now widowed and living next to him in poverty with four loud children. But a surprise visit from a brother long suspected dead convicts him in a way that shows just how selfish he is and what he might be missing.
I’ve read two other books by Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm and Nightingale Wood. Even though I can’t say that I wholeheartedly like Gibbons, there is something unique in her writing that I can appreciate and enjoy. These stories improve as one reads and I’m not quite sure if that’s because Gibbons’ writing gets better or merely because the reader gets more used to it. In any case, it’s another book towards my Literary Christmas challenge and I did quite enjoy it!