Monday, April 23, 2007

Let Down

Not long ago, I read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Hoping for more cheerful humor, I borrowed The Charmers by the same author.

I can't say the book didn't have its merits, but it wasn't written in at all the same vein--very little humor, much darker and less optimistic. I'm not sure when the first book was written, but this one was written in 1965 and set in post-war London. The most negative thing about the book was a huge glaring case of racism that was too revolting to overlook, and cast a shadow over the book that renders it unfit to recommend. So I'm not recommending it. When I run across elements of racist thinking in Victorian novels, I tend to be a shade more forgiving, as I know they are the product of their time, and Darwinist thinking colored their views.

But 1965?? I'm not sure exactly when the story is supposed to be taking place, but Noel Coward is mentioned as a living and producing playwright in London. And please understand--I could forgive the racism of characters in the book if they functioned as examples of "how not to behave" or if the black man in the book was portrayed as dignified in the face of their patronizing. But such is not the case. The characters have a hideous paternalistic attitude toward their fellow human beings, and the black house cleaner is "typically" lazy, uneducated, sly, and untrustworthy. You may well shudder.

The main story line of The Charmers is not bad, and I enjoyed the story of Christine, an unmarried woman in her fifties who has devoted her life to providing for her (shallow, materialistic) parents and is now exploring her freedom for the first time in her life. The story doesn't just marry her off to a nice widower, either (although one is conveniently hovering nearby for a while), but allows her to see a different kind of life from that which she has always known, so that when she chooses what she wants for herself, she finds she can be happy even in a situation not unlike the one she suffered so long. She has awoken to the wider world, and still found it good to live a life serving others, and that happiness is not based upon selfishness after all.

So the book wasn't a total loss, but it was a nasty shock to find, instead of the quirky humor I expected, racism in one of its most putrid forms. I know I sound harsh, but truly, I could not even copy some of the sentences from this book onto my blog to show you what I mean. It is that revolting.


At 6:15 PM , Blogger Framed said...

Thanks for the review. I think I will steer clear of this book, but "Cold Comfort Farm" is on my TBR list. I'm glad to see that someone else has read and enjoyed it.


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