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Austen to Zafón

Reading widely since 1972.

Currently reading

A London Family, 1870-1900: A Trilogy
Molly Hughes
The Cellist of Sarajevo
Steven Galloway
Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher
Lewis Thomas
All the Names
José Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa
A History of the World in 100 Objects
Neil MacGregor
Down the Garden Path
Beverley Nichols
Virtue Betray'd, Or, Anna Bullen
John Banks
Year of Wonders
Geraldine Brooks
Swallows and Amazons
Arthur Ransome
Illusion in java
Gene Fowler
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead - Barbara Comyns Published in 1954, this is like a cozy English-village novelette gone terribly wrong. Tyrannical, morbid grandma abuses everyone and delights in the deaths and tragedies of others, dad is too self-involved to care about anyone, the kids are left to their own devices. And then people in the village begin going mad and killing themselves one by one. Who will be next? A bit like Cold Comfort Farm, but more lyrically written and not as funny.

The book opens with a flood: "The ducks swam through the drawing room windows. The weight of the water had forced the windows open; so the ducks swam in. Round the room they sailed quacking their approval; then thy sailed out again to explore the wonderful new world that had come in the night."

It's only wonderful for ducks though. "A passing pig squealing, it's short legs madly beating the water and tearing at its throat, which was red and bleeding..." is typical of the havoc described.

I had difficulty reading the passages about how the father berates and abuses his 5- or 6-year-old son. The only kind characters in the book are the children. I get the sense that Comyns' goal was to reveal how vicious, scornful, and mocking adults can be to children and how little the children can do about it.

All in all, I didn't really enjoy the story itself. Mostly, I kept reading because I wanted to see the mystery solved and because the writing is beautiful. I plan to try some of her other books. The ending seemed contrived and incongruously happy. Somewhere I read that if Jane Austen had had a morbid streak, she would have written something like this. Maybe, but I probably wouldn't have been thrilled with it either.