Thursday, January 20, 2011

'Our Spoons Came From Woolworths' by Barbara Comyns

Publisher: Virago Modern Classics

ISBN: 0-86068-353-2

Length: 223 Pages

What the Blurb says: "Eventually we bought a mattress and were able to tuck the clothes in and the sheets were washed and didn't smell and we became proper married people."

'Sophia is twenty-one years old, she carries a newt around in her pocket and marries- in haste- a young artist called Charles. Swept into bohemian London of the thirties, Sophia is ill-equipped to cope: poverty, babies (however much loved)- and her husband- conspire to torment her. Hoping to add some spice to her life, Sophia takes up with the dismal, ageing art critic, Peregrine and learns to repent her marriage- and affair- at leisure. Repentance brings an abrupt end to a life of unpaid bill, unsold pictures and unwashed crockery, plus the hope of joys in store: this novel has a very happy ending...'

Opening Line: 'I told Helen my story and she went home and cried.'

What's good about this novel?

In my opinion, there are a lot of good things about this novel. Firstly, the characters within this novel are brilliant. I loved Sophia, the central character. She is funny and has a naivety about her, which I couldn't help but like.

She reminds me of a less exaggerated version of Alice Tinker, a character in the BBC sitcom 'The Vicar of Dibley'. Like Alice, Sophia isn't stupid, but it's as if she is a child pretending to be a 'grown up'.

Despite her lack of knowledge of the real world, Sophia is a very determined person. Despite all of the trouble she has with the 'waster' men in her life and everyone blaming her for everything, she tries hard. Throughout the novel, I longed for her to do well.

What Barbara Comyns succeeds in doing with her characterisation, is the ability to create quirky characters and write about them so well, that they are still believable. You can tell that Comyns really knows her characters and for me that thorough knowledge, helps to create wonderfully complex characters. The only other author that I feel that has been able to achieve this, is Kate Atkinson.

As well as establishing a base of well rounded characters, I think another element that I felt was effective, as a reader, was the fact that I could connect to the story due to Comyns' use of the first person. Throughout the story, Sophia is telling you the story of her life. I find that using the first person perspective in novels extremely effective. It adds authenticity to the characters and makes you feel a involved in the story.

Moving from the characters, the writing in this novel is just brilliant. Comyns is able to subtly combine tragedy with a wicked sense of humour. Some of the turns of phrase the character Sophia uses, made me laugh out loud. What I also found in this and another of Comyn's novels, 'The Vet's Daughter', was the atmosphere that she creates. It may be not as dark and macabre as 'The Vet's Daughter', but I still felt the sense of poverty and hardship through the surroundings she was describing.

The plot never flagged at any point and I felt that it was balanced, with a satisfactory end.

What's wrong with this novel?

Very little. If I had to be picky, I would say that at times her attitude, particularly with her affair, was a little flippant. When I was reading this part, I was thinking that surely she would understand the consequences of her actions, no matter hot naive she was? However, it didn't stop me liking her.

Is this worth a read?

Absolutely. If you like a quirky novel with great characters, then I would say you should read this. I LOVED this book and can't wait to read more of Barbara Comyn's work. She has made it to my 'Favourite Authors' list.


  1. WWO
    And thanks for the info you 'bookworm'! :)

  2. I'm a 'Book Worm' and proud of it! I know this review is a bit long, but I loved this book. So much so, I could say a lot more about it!

  3. I'm intrigued thanks to your review. Sophia sounds like someone I know or used to know.

  4. Thank you for your recommendation. I have got to read it.

  5. Very good review.

  6. Great review! I'm so pleased Comyns has made it onto your favourite authors list. I love what you say about her characters being both quirky and believable, because Comyns believes in them - so true.