You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The setting is the village of Warickshire around the turn of the century. When the novel opens, there has been a flood. The ground floor of the Willoweed home has filled with water and ducks swim through the windows. For the Willoweed children the house and grounds have become an aquatic playground, although the bloated dead animals strike a melancholy note. Their father finds the flood another ordeal to be endured.  For their grandmother, in whose house they live, the flood is an inconvenience that is delaying lunch.

On one level. Comyn's novel is parody of the English novel of village life, filled with eccentric characters and their rustic doings. Her characters are eccentric, but also, in the case of the matriarch, somewhat psychotic. The villagers have more pathologies than charm. Reader's know something bad is going to happen, and it's not surprising to read about halfway through the book

Within a few weeks funerals were to become a common occurrence in that village; but at this time they were rather scarce and looked forward to eagerly.

When I worked around used books, Barbara Comyns was one of those writers published as a Virago Classic whose novels sat unsold next to other remaindered Virago Classics by Christina Stead, Molly Keane, and Elizabeth Taylor. (How often did we have to say, "No, it's not the Elizabeth Taylor.") I had never looked at one and only remember the name because I remember lots of names. This book has shown up on several reader's lists with enthusiastic reviews, and I decided to take a look. Everything everyone else says is true. It is peculiar, delightful, dark, al those things. It is a perfect, preferably rainy afternoon read.

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