Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Flora Poste, our heroine, suitably orphaned and penniless, goes to live with distant relatives on a gloomy farm ruled by a despotic matriarch. Flora should be despondent, but this is not that kind of novel. Flora faces drama undaunted, armed with savoir vivre and common sense. Shades of Maria or Mary Poppins.

The book cleverly apes the characters who commonly flourished in brooding “agricultural” novels, then deftly turns them on their ear with a character who sees through everything. Flora’s a tourist on the set of a Dracula movie, busily brushing away cobwebs and making candid asides about the corny script.

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami

If you’re reading a book by Murakami and someone asks you what it’s about, say “It’s hard to explain.”

Toru’s wife disappears and he searches for her by sitting in pitch darkness in a dried-up well, where he also accesses a dream world. He is contacted by a mixed-bag of oddballs: a retired military man, a woman who knows things, a psychological tailor and her mute son, a teenage neighbour who works for a wigmaker, not to mention his wife’s evil bother. These characters seem scarred or they have icky monsters deep inside their psyches.

It was too dark for me.

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