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Nightingale Wood

Nightingale Wood: A Novel65. Stella Gibbons, Nightingale Wood

When young and pretty Viola Wither finds herself widowed at the age of 21, she goes to live with her in-laws, the Withers, who take her in because they see it as their duty. The Withers aren’t thrilled to have her, however, because she used to work in a shop and is not quite a lady. Additionally, she threatens to upset the middle-class dullness of their lives: Mr. Wither cares only about money; his wife cares only about observing the proprieties; their spinster daughter Madge wants a dog more than anything in the world; and their slightly younger spinster daughter Tina secretly dreams of love. None of them seem to be close to achieving their desires, however, until several unexpected incidents occur, bringing surprising joy and even a little romance with them.

I was expecting this book to be like Cold Comfort Farm, which is light and sparkling and parodic. This book is equally funny in places – every once in a while, usually at the end of a long paragraph, comes an amazing and shocking one-liner. I was expecting the humor, but I wasn’t expecting the serious and strangely touching passages. The characters all have flaws, most of which are dull and ugly rather than spectacular, so in one sense it’s hard to root for them. Yet even the least sympathetic characters have a little spark that made me pity and love them. I don’t think this book is as good as Cold Comfort Farm, but it still left me with a lot to enjoy and think about.

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August 2012

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