Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nightingale Wood - Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm is one of those books everybody knows (everybody who likes a nice inter war classic with a good dollop of humour that is) I first read it maybe 15years ago, and back then wasn’t the sort to read introductions – I liked, still like, to come to a book without someone else’s opinion, and introductions struck my youthful self as inauthentic, I wanted the ‘Classic’ experience unadulterated. Anyway enough of that, for years I was under the impression that Gibbons had only written the one book. My first inkling that this may not be so came with a collection of Virago Ghost stories which included a Gibbons short. Honestly I found it disappointing. The discovery that Virago where reprinting Nightingale Wood lead to some very elementary research and I now Know there are over 20 novels as well as collections of poetry and short stories.

Nightingale Wood is a charming Cinderella story where even the ugly sisters get a happy ending. Filled with observation of both human nature, and the Essex countryside it makes the perfect easy reading. I can’t imagine a more appealing description of the glories of an English spring, and whilst the commentary on the foibles of her characters may be wickedly accurate, even laugh out loud funny, they are never cruel. There is the hint of something nasty in the woodshed, not everybody’s happy ending is conventionally happy, but all in all it’s a happy romp that bounces along and I was sorry to finish.

With all the glories of Nightingale Wood fresh in my mind and happy recollections of Cold Comfort Farm somewhere in the golden past I set out on a hunt for more Stella novels confident of success on every level. Not to be. Prices on Amazon where prohibitive, the combination of high prices and glowing revues was encouraging however so I felt sure I was well on my way to finding literary truffles. Next step the local library, where they could only offer me Cold Comfort. Persistence paid off and I acquired a copy of ‘White Sand And Grey Sand’ second hand, and ‘The Woods In Winter’ on loan. I totally failed with both. I haven’t been able to read enough Gibbons to say the quality of her work is uneven, it’s just not available, and this is a shame. Her output was prolific enough to guarantee a few duds, and I suspect that whilst her earlier output is old enough to have a period charm if nothing else, some of the later works are perhaps stuck in the limbo we describe as ‘dated’. That was certainly my feeling about ‘The Woods In Winter’.
It still seems such a shame that the majority of Gibbons output is so hard to come by, either as a humorist, or as an observer of the natural world I am convinced she still has a lot to offer. I hope that the good people at Virago find more of a suitable quality, and reprint as they are for Barbara Pym.

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