Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns

This was the last of my intended reads for Virago Reading Week. Obviously I was a little overambitious thinking I could read three books in a week as it has now been a few weeks and I’ve just finished the third one! Still I’m very happy to have read three books, all very enjoyable, that I might not have chosen to read otherwise.

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is as offbeat as the title suggests. A little book, easily read in a few short sittings or maybe one longer one. It is told in a way that invites you to keep reading, a chat over a cup of tea where the narrator, Sophia, tells you at the beginning that she is much happier now before launching into her story, barely coming up for breath.

Her story takes place in Bohemian London in the 1930s and is characterised by naieve optimisim and severe poverty. It is the story of her marriage to fellow artist Charles, the son she has almost straight away and the struggle to make ends meet. This is a struggle she takes on alone as Charles is interested only in his painting. Fortunately with her cheery nature,talent and attractiveness, opportunites arise, both good and bad but the family are hungry and cold most of the time and desperately poor.

This book is delightful, and uplifiting and terribly sad all at the same time. Luckily I knew from the first page that it ended well as there are parts of the book that are heartbreaking. Sophia is very naieve and childlike and some of her observations and experiences could be quite funny if they weren’t so tragic. Everything about her pregnancy with her son was a complete revelation for her – so much so that when her waters break she thinks she has exploded because she has become so fat.

This lack of education and support means she is unable to protect herself from abuse – particularly from the men in her life but also from her husbands family who blame her for becoming pregnant and making a father of Charles at such a young age.

But despite all of this, the tone of her narrating is a happy one and her disposition is sunny. I loved the bohemian essence of it all and the simple style. In the end it had an almost fairy tale quality to it which was just as well – it might have all been a bit hard to bear without a cheery ending.

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8 responses to “Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns

  1. I’ve yet to try Barbara Comyns. Each of her novels sounds so distinct from the other, and she’s a novelist who has left me feeling a little perplexed as to what her style is and whether I’d enjoy it. I suppose the only way for me to find out is to dive in and give her a go one of these days!

    Lovely review, and I was the same with Virago Reading Week – I had three books and only got one read, but that’s life!

    • booksnob – I hadn’t heard of Barbara Comyns before but I’m thinking the style of this book could only really work the one time. I’ll be interested to read something else of hers that’s quite different. I hope you enjoy her when you do take the plunge!

  2. This was the first book I tried of Comyns. I too could not quite get to grips with it as I did not like the abuse that Sophia faced and particularly her inability to see/get over it. For the period I suppose it was typical and that would be my error in trying to impose a different way of looking at a situation. for me it was uncomfortable.

    • Mystica – yes I felt quite uncomfortable and frustrated for her as well and angry at times – I wondered how a person could be quite so inexperienced but like you say it’s a different time period. Still the scene where she leaves her home and the consequences of that was hard to read.

  3. I’ve heard such great things about Barbara Comyns both from you and other book bloggers – I really must read this!

    • Alison – I must check out some of her other books as well – I have only just discovered her. Hope you enjoy whichever one you choose – I’ll keep my eye out for your thoughts.

  4. This sounds like a really good book. I don’t like feeling stressed out when I read books..thanks for letting me know it ends well

  5. Pingback: The Artificial Silk Girl – Irmgard Keun « A Book Sanctuary

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