Barbara Comyns is a writer I have problems with. I found her first in Oxfam when I picked up a copy of ‘Our Spoons Came From Woolworths’ (I actually thought I was buying ‘The Bronte’s Went to Woolworths’ which I had also seen and then had to go back for). I found it a deeply moving book, and when I found ‘Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead’ a few weeks later I was really hooked. Hooked enough to order ‘Sisters by a River’ new from amazon – which really disappointed me, and since then I’ve had mixed feelings about Comyns.
At her best I find her dark, funny, deeply disturbing and very disarming, at other times I’m left wondering why I bothered. ‘Sisters by a River’ is rather like that it’s some of Comyns earliest writing (before she learned to spell, or found someone to spell for her) it has been published as it was written and I found it hard going to read, it’s also a very fragmented book – essentially stories from Comyns childhood that she later told her own children, she uses much the same material to far better effect in ‘Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead’.