OK, last entry on Cold Comfort for now,although to be fair it has been an obsession for more years than I care to remember, and this writing has a certain cathartic/therapeutic role. “Christmas” it needs to be said straight away is a short story – not even that really, more a portrait. It runs to less than 20 pages in the Vintage edition recently published, and bless them for doing so. I can forgive the fact they do little to publicise the fact that this is not a novel, but a collection of stories, only one of which is about Cold Comfort.
The original novel was published in 1932; this short story dates from 1940, and Conference, which I wrote about earlier in the month dates to 1959, astonishingly late given the subjects being satirised. But I have written enough about Conference, save to say that the glimpse we have of Elfine, out riding with her sons, is worth the book on its own. Back to Christmas. Gibbons rediscovers her light comic touch here, and the vision of a Cold Comfort unredeemed by Flora’s reformation, anarchic and dark, is to be treasured. Adam Lambsbreath delivers presents to the clan, disturbing Seth with a “friend” and being shot at by Amos with the goat-gun in the process, and then Christmas dinner degenerates into predictable anarchy. Elfine escapes with Dick on horseback, and the farm settles back into its long wait for Flora, Aunt Ada flapping weakly at anyone in range of the Milk Producers Weekly Bulletin and Cowkeepers Guide. One word – brilliant.