Skip to main content

Review: Sisters By a River, by Barbara Comyns


Pages: 151

Original date of publication: 1947

My edition: 2000

Why I decided to read: Ebay

How I acquired my copy: Found it on Ebay, January 2011

Sisters by a River is an odd little book. Based closely on the author’s childhood, the book is told from a child’s point of view (although references are made later in the book to the main character’s teenage years), complete with erratic spelling and punctuation, and run-on sentences. This way of telling the story is unique and charming, though I could see why it might get tiring after a while (probably the reason why this novel is only about 150 pages long).

Understanding Barbara Comyns’s childhood is the key to understanding the context of this book. According to the preface of the Virago Modern Classics edition, she was the fourth of six children, having a childhood that was “both an idyll and a nightmare” (some of this is reflected in Sisters By a River, albeit told from a child’s skewed perspective). Comyns’s father drank heavily, and there’s a family legend that her father told her mother that he would marry her as soon as she was old enough to bake a cake (this anecdote makes its way into Sisters By a River).

The story that Comyns tells in Sisters By a River is both tragic and happy; tragic because of what happens to the narrator’s parents, happy because, as a child, the narrator can’t quite understand what’s going on (though, from a distance of time, she can). I enjoyed this book for the most part, but the tone of voice confused me a bit; the author used the diction and grammar of a child, yet the story is clearly told when the narrator is much older. Still, I thought that this was a highly charming book. Some of the misspellings had me laughing out loud in some places.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…