Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nightingale Wood

Stella Gibbons' first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, is one of those quirky books with a substantial cultish following, and rightly so--it's funny, charming, and tongue-in-check gently mocking of the grand literary tradition.  For years, I've been raving about it but only recently realized that Gibbons wrote other novels as well.

I read one of them, Nightingale Wood, recently, and while it's no Cold Comfort Farm, it was a fun book with a fairly decent message about the silliness of class constraints and the very real human need to find something or someone to love.

My only problem with the novel was that the heroine, Viola, is hard to really warm up to.  There's nothing wrong with her--no violent temper, no fatal flaws--there's just nothing much to her beyond a pretty face and the desire to not be immolated by boredom. 

Viola is a young widow who is left penniless when her husband dies suddenly and she goes to live with his parents and two sisters.  Timeframe is between the World Wars in England, and the husband's family, the Withers, look down on her because she was a shopgirl before she married.  She is also an orphan, and mourns the loss of her father--a lovely man who loved theatre and his daughter and his loss is more devastating to Viola than even the loss of her husband.

Life at the Withers is withering--dull, conventional, prescribed--and only the allure of Victor Sparks, a dashing young man who streaks across Viola's world from time to time keeps her from completely shriveling up.  If you didn't get the naming convention...he is a spark that reingnites Viola back into life.

I really enjoyed how Viola came to find love in the end--it was a sweet, amusing story.  I also enjoyed the other main romantic thread in the novel--that of Tina, one of Viola's sisters-in-law, who also breaks out of the confines of conventional life to find love and worth in the world beyond the class system her parents worship.

Definitely an enjoyable story, and one that makes me curious to read another of Gibbons' other works.


  1. Your comment about the main character having no fatal flaws is interesting Jane. Is it not amazing how personality weaknesses ranges from the silly, to annoying, to the downright evil really enliven a fictional persona? How dull the world would be without such negative traits!

  2. So, even a less than Cold Comfort Farm Gibbons novel is a good read? I'll have to keep an eye out for this one.

  3. Victor Sparks made me think of Edmund Sparkler who marries Fanny in Little Dorrit (I'm just finishing a second go through this). Both are great names for men who flash into a woman's life bestowing the inestimable gift of themselves!:) Sparks also reminds me of that old-fashioned term "sparking" in the sense of courting someone. In any case, you make it sound full of calm delights.