For a long time the only book of Stella Gibbons’ that I knew was Cold Comfort Farm. I loved it but it didnt occur to me to look for more of the author’s work.
But then another work appeared. Last year the Virago Press announced that it would be reissuing Nightingale Farm as a Virago Modern Classic. It looked wonderful then and it still looks wonderful now that a copy is in my hands.
That made me wonder if maybe there were any more gems if Stella Gibbons’ backlist. So I cheched the library’s catalogue to see if there was anything in the fiction reserve, and I found The Weather at Tregulla.
I was thrilled, particularly as the name Tregulla sounded Cornish to me. That would explain why the Cornish library service decided to hang on to the book. And indeed the story is set in the fictional Cornish village of Tregulla at the end of the 1950s.
The story opens at the funeral of Evelyn Beaumont. Barnabas Trewin is home on leave and, because Evelyn was the mother of his childhood friend Una, he goes to the funeral. After the funeral Evelyn’s widower approaches Barnabas and asks him to break some news to Una. Her mother’s income died with her and the money that was to fund Una’a dream of drama school is gone.
Barnabas dreads telling Una but Captain Beaumont is so clearly distressed that he is unable to say no. Una is, of course, upset and dashes off into the countryside where she spent so many happy hours at a child. And there she finds a cottage with two new occupants – artist Terrence Willows and his sister Emmeline. Emmeline is warm and friendly to the distressed girl, but Terrence is disinterested.
Una sets her sights on Terrence, and when Emmeline and Barnabas meet they are drawn to each other. Relationships between the quartet evolve over the course of a Cornish summer.
The Weather at Tregulla started wonderfully. I recognised the characters – both the four principals and the wider village community – I liked them and I was interested to know what happened to them. Certain possibilities suggested themselves, but it was far from obvious what would happen.
And I fell in love with the place. The descriptions were simple and effective and the setting did feel like the Cornwall that I know.
A little momentum was lost as the story progressed, and the vivid descriptions that brought the opening chapters to life faded away. But there was still enough to keep the pages turning.
Things picked up again as the story drew to a close. All four principals left Tregulla. Some had happy endings, but some did not. The conclusion wasn’t at all what I expected, and I’m really not sure if I liked it or not.
Overall though I did enjoy The Weather at Tregulla. It was a lovelybook to spend some time with, but it is missing that little bit of magic that makes books like Cold Comfort Farm so special.
I found that Nightingale Wood was missing that something special too.
Claire – That’s disappointing. Looking at the chronology I saw that Cold Comfort Farm and Nightingale Wood were published in the 1930s and The Weather at Tregulla in the 1960s and it did occur to me that Tregulla might have been a case of an older writer slightly losing interest. Maybe though there was a reason why everything but Cold Comfort Farm drifted out of print.
Other reviews were complimentary books and I did find it charming in parts but there is definitely a reason why Cold Comfort Farm is a classic and remained in print.
I haven’t read Cold Comfort Farm yet, and actually added it to my list last week. From what everyone’s saying here, it sounds like a wonderful read.
I enjoyed your review! I, too, was fairly disappointed with my “second” Stella Gibbon novel (the title of which escapes me). I don’t know if she wrote anything else as engaging as Cold Comfort Farm.
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I really enjoyed Nightingale Wood and was delighted to see that it had been republished. The trouble with Cold Comfort Farm is that a lot of it is pastiche, so although it’s very funny (especially if you have read anything by Mary Webb) only bits of it are really Gibbons speaking in her own voice. If you can lay your hands on My American, that’s a fantastic book. I think that’s my favourite Gibbons novel.