Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

I had a plan for All Virago All August. It involved reading some lesser known VMCs. Books and authors that I knew little of, but took on trust because they came in a dark green cover.

For the moment though, that plan has gone out of the window. LoveFilm sent me the film of Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel last weekend, and now I really want to re-read the book.

And then I picked up Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, to pull out a quote for The Virago Book of Weddings and Marriage, and I just couldn’t put it back until I had read it all over again.

So this may turn out to be the summer of the Virago re-read!

There is something about Barbara Comyns’ writing that I find completely irresistable. I also find it difficult to explain, but here are three words to start with: clarity, simplicity, eccentricity.

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is Sophia’s story. It is set in the thirties, but told, some years later, to a good friend who didn’t know Sophia then.

It was a simple, and very well executed, framing device. And I was very glad that it was there, that I knew Sophia would be alright in the end.

You see, I liked her from the very start. She was engaging. naive, and yet terribly perceptive. And so wonderfully matter-of-fact.

At the age of twenty-one, Sophia eloped with Charles, a struggling artist to live the Bohemian life in London. They were young, they were in live, and so. of course, they gave no thought to practicalities.

Charles painted, oblivious to what was going on around him, while Sophia tried to keep house and earn enough money for essentials. Things like food and rent.

I had my doubts about Charles from the start, but I hoped I was wrong. His family encouraged him to be selfish, and accused Sophia of dragging him towards domesticity and responsibility when he was far too young. But maybe, when the chips were down, his love for Sophia would make him do the right thing.

Sadly, when Sophia fell pregnant I found that my fears had been founded. He hadn’t wanted a baby and so it was nothing to do with him.

A son was born and the family had a few up and rather more downs. Poverty was never too far away.

Eventually, inevitably, the marriage crumbled.

Sophia had to find another life, for herself and for her son. And find it she did.

She found a happy ending too.

A simple story, but it was oh so engaging, listening to Sophia as she speaks of characters, incidents and spoke of people, places, events, the details of her life.

It wasn’t quite perfect: the pace flagged at times, and the happy ending felt a little contrived.

Not many authors could pull off a book like this, but Barbara Comyns could.

It isn’t her best book (that would be The Vet’s Daughter) but it is well worth reading and, I think, the best introduction you could have to her work.

7 responses

  1. Oh, I have The Vet’s Daughter to look forward to then! I loved The Skin Chairs And Our Spoons…Woolworths. She was a wonderful writer, I completely agree.

    • This one has its own charm, but I tend to think Barbara Comyns was still maturing as a writer and she hadn’t quite hit her stride.

      There was a step from Sisters on a River to this, and there’s another one forward to the Vet’s Daughter.

      Believe it or not Tui, I read The Vet’s Daughter when it came as a free gift with a magazine, back when I at university. If only magazines came with extras like that now!

  2. Fleur – I was delighted with this too and was so pleased to know also that everything would be ok for Sophia – it might have been a bit much to bear even just reading about it otherwise. I’m going to look out for The Vet’s Daughter for a time when I’m feeling in a quirky reading mood.

  3. Oh, it’s a hard choice to make isn’t it…reading VMCs by VMC authors whose acquaintance you’ve already made (other works of theirs having already been loved), or reading VMCs by VMC authors who are poised to be added to your list of favourites. Hope you find some more treasures, be they old or new!

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