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

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 an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancĂ©e, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…