Original date of publication: 1938
My edition: 2010 (Penguin)
Why I decided to read: It’s my “N” title for the A to Z Challenge
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble giftcard, April 2010
Viola is newly widowed when she’s invited by her husband’s family to come live with them in Sible Pelden. There’s Mr. Wither, who’s a fantastic bore; Mrs. Wither, who doesn’t quite care for her new daughter-in-law (due to the fact that she’s the daughter of a shop owner); and Tina and Madge, their middle-aged daughters who have never quite grown up and are waiting for something to happen to them. The story follows these characters and others over the course of a year, the highlight being a charity ball at which a local eligible bachelor named Victor Spring will be present.
One of the things that Stella Gibbons is famous for was her sense of humor, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Nightingale Wood. Stella Gibbons’s humor is a little more maniacally funny, but the characters and plot of this one never fail to be entertaining.
There’s a very surreal, Midsummer Night’s Dream-esque feeling to this book—all kinds of people slipping away to the woods to conduct love affairs, licit and otherwise. So, often, this book reads like a fairy tale—a fairy tale with a twist, especially since the two Prince Charmings in this book doesn’t always have the purest intentions…
The characterizations in this novel are especially strong. Viola isn’t quite what you’d expect from a woman who married someone twenty years older than she; but she’s all the more interesting for that because there’s so much more to her personality than meets the eye. Mr. Wither is, as described above, a frightful bore; Madge is a middle-aged woman who’s never totally grown up (as seen in her childlike delight over her new dog Polo); and Tina is a woman just dying to be loved. Well, she gets her wish, but not in the way she expected... the only character I didn’t tally love (for good and for worse) was Victor Spring, who was a bit stereotypical; and every time Saxon, the chauffer, appeared, I kept thinking of Thomas from Upstairs, Downstairs. Also, the plot moved a bit too quickly in some places. However, this is a well-written, funny novel; I actually found myself guffawing out loud in several places. This book is definitely worth a read if you enjoy this type of novel. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I haven’t read Stella Gibbons’s other, better-known book, Cold Comfort Farm; a problem that I should remedy as soon as possible.