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Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara…
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Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950)

by Barbara Comyns

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
It's quite an achievement to make the reader laugh and cry at the same time, and this wry, gentle book does it wonderfully. Speaking of Woolworths, I still do miss them. In fact my spoons did come from Woolworths. I kitted myself out with their basics about 12 years ago, and most of them are still going strong, even the kettle. They were the first casualty in what has now become a general slaughter of much-loved old British high street names.
  PollyMoore3 | May 3, 2017 |
There is a distinctive voice to this book which is recognisably similar to the one from The Vet's Daughter by the same author. A sort of deadpan, slightly surreal, but matter of fact narrator. The descriptions of poverty are again vivid and hard, and there are glimpses of the London of the past, before the NHS. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Jan 30, 2017 |
I'm not entirely sure I did justice to this book by reading it very quickly one evening. Either way, it was simply and engagingly written, and I got into it very easily: it's the life of Sophia, her almost-on-a-whim marriage and the consequent struggle with poverty and children; it could have easily wallowed in the misery of it, but it didn't, and I liked that. ( )
  mari_reads | Aug 4, 2013 |
My third read for All Virago/all August and so far I am really enjoying reading my lovely green VMC’s and having the chance to get to grips with authors I know less well, or as in the case of Barbara Comyns – not at all. Like the last book I read – Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane – this novel also seems to divide opinion a bit. I can see why. There is much misery and things do seem relentlessly grim for most of the novel. The blurb on the back cover of my VMC edition promises the reader – “a very happy ending.” I was surprised to see that in the blurb, before I began reading it, it did seem to be a very slight spoiler. However, with so much abject misery around, maybe the reader needs to know things will turn out ok at last. Strangely though, despite the grimness and misery – this isn’t really a depressing book, though there were some pretty dark moments I did actually enjoy it.
The story is told by Sophia, as she relates the story of her marriage to a new friend. In this way the reader knows right away that Sophia will be ok at some stage, and is able to believe in the promise of a happy ending.
Sophia tells her story in a very matter of fact manner; her voice is simple, naïve, at times almost childlike. She is an eccentric narrator, sometimes annoying, I found her rather endearing. At just twenty one she and artist Charles Fairclough decide to marry against Charles’s parent’s advice. Although they have some support from a child hating aunt of Charles.
“She even liked my newts, and sometimes when we went to dinner there I took Great Warty in my pocket; he didn’t mind being carried about, and while I ate dinner I gave him a swim in the water jug. On this visit I had no newts in my pocket…but when Charles told her the plans for our secret marriage that had somehow gone astray, she was most sympathetic and helpful.”
Neither of them has much money, but to begin with they are excited and positive about the future. Sophia has a job, but Charles just paints and sells virtually nothing. After their marriage they are terribly poor. Charles is only really interested in his painting, while Sophia tries her best to become a good wife, to cook and clean and keep their home nice, but she has little experience and is a bit out of her depth. Occasional visits from Charles’s terrifying mother offering advice don’t help much.
“She cleared her throat once or twice, and said something about poor people should eat a lot of herrings, as they were most nutritious, also she had heard poor people eat heaps of sheeps' heads and she went on to ask if I ever cooked them. I said I would rather be dead than cook or eat a sheep's head; I'd seen them in butchers' shops with awful eyes and bits of wool sticking to their skulls. After that helpful hints for the poor were forgotten.”
There is a good deal of humour in this sometimes dark little story, some real laugh out loud moments and Sophia’s naivety is often charming as well as a bit irritating. Her marriage to Charles goes from bad to worse after the birth of their son Sandro, Charles has little interest in the child, and Sophia has to give up work. They meet the art critic Peregrine Narrow at a party, and Sophia who sometimes works as an artist’s model goes to sit for him, they become friends and she is soon having an affair. Poor Sophia is soon to bitterly regret both her hasty marriage and her adultery. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is the story of a hasty marriage between two people who are not any good for one another. It describes with horrible straightforwardness, the realities of poverty in bohemian London, hunger, unwanted pregnancies, illness and the feeling of being trapped in a dreadful situation from which there appears to be no escape. The ending when it comes is something of a relief for the reader, although there is no great surprise in it. There is certain predictableness in such an ending, but in this case I didn’t really mind. I wanted Sophia to be alright. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Aug 6, 2012 |
I just finished this as part of rainpebble's ALL VIRAGO/ALL AUGUST challenge. It's a sometimes hilarious comedy because of its deadpan, first person narration written in a very simple, childlike voice that reminds me of Gertrude Stein's Gentle Lena. Sophia isn't in any way "simple-minded," though -- rather, a bit naive with some serious "self-esteem issues."

I think the funniest scene might be the one where "Bumble," a painter for whom Sophia is modelling, takes her and her young son, Sandro, in the car to a house where they'll be staying for the weekend.

Bumble stopped at a cake shop and bought masses of disgusting cakes all covered in imitation cream and jam and gave [Sandro] them to eat. Fortunately, he didn't like them, but thought it a good idea to smear them all over the seat and window of the car. Still it would have made even more mess if he had been sick.

This following an earlier scene in a bus when Sandro had gotten sick all over some woman's umbrella, which, as Sophia explains equally deadpan, had been opened.

If these incidents don't sound as funny in the retelling, it's because you've got to read them in the full, ongoing context of Sophia's naive, deadpan narration.

A definite 5*****. ( )
  CurrerBell | Aug 5, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Comynsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brayfield, CeliaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gould, EmilyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Farrell, MaggieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Barbara Comyns wrote first as a child, to amuse herself, her vibrant and curious imagination overflowing the edges of reality.
I told Helen my story and she went home and cried.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Sophia is twenty-one years old, naive, unworldly, and irresistible -- most particularly to Charles, a young painter whom she married in haste and with whom she plunges into a life of dire poverty. Desperate, Sophia takes up with the dismal, aging art critic Peregrine, and learns to repent both marriage and affair at leisure. How Sophia survives to find true love is delightfully told in this engaging and eccentric novel, which also gives a wonderful portrait of bohemian life in London in the 1940s.
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Sophia, at 20, is still naive and unworldly. She marries a young painter and they begin their life together in dire poverty. Their early married years are a struggle, especially with the advent of children whom her husband resents. Forced to support her family whilst her husband paints, she suffers hardship and heartbreak until they part. How she wins through and finds happiness and fortune is an enchanting and moving tale.… (more)

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