Starlight

Stella Gibbons has the reputation of being a one hit wonder Cold Comfort Farm both immortalised her name but also overshadowed everything else she ever wrote A few years ago Vintage decided that th

Stella Gibbons has the reputation of being a one-hit wonder - Cold Comfort Farm both immortalised her name but also overshadowed everything else she ever wrote. A few years ago Vintage decided that this was terribly unfair and decided to re-issue her back catalogue. I had a go at Westwood given that Lynn Truss claimed that it was the Persuasion to Cold Comfort's Pride and Prejudice but alas I found it a bit grim - at the time I was still living with my parents and found a few too many parallels with the unfortunate Margaret. I might feel differently now. Still, I have been determined to try again and with Starlight I have finally succeeded. Ten years after I first fell in love with Cold Comfort Farm, I repeated the experience with this novel - the perfect autumnal read. Recently I read Barbara Comyns' The Vet's Daughter and while that one had similarly stunning moments of description, in Starlight Gibbons manages to far more effectively stage a Gothic novel within the domestic sphere. This is a spooky story rooted firmly in a world that is all too real - a world of soggy afternoons and muddy lanes leading to beaten-down houses. The Gothic meets the mundane, the flesh creeps but then we shudder and we go back to normal.We the reader are bystanders to the action, we see more or less through the eyes of Gladys Barnes, an elderly lady living with her fellow-spinster sister Annie in a run-down cottage in Highgate. Gladys jammers fairly constantly, meaning that her fellow-characters battle on just as the reader does to catch the thread of what on earth she might be talking about. She reminded me of those Shakespearean characters who often opened second or third Acts and only ever spoke in prose - you really have to pay attention to understand what is being said. Gladys and Annie once knew better times, they were born in the countryside and now have to face the horror of a new landlord who is known to be a dreaded 'rackman'. They and their eccentric but gently-mannered upstairs neighbour are on tenter-hooks over what might become of them under the new regime, even seeking advice from the vicar Mr Geddes and his curate. In any event, the landlord's daughter drops round to inform them that all will be well but that the cottages will be done up for the landlord's invalid wife Mrs Pearson to move into, the hope being that living in this area will aid her recovery.Mr Pearson never quite seems as dark as he has been painted - his origins are clouded, he comes from 'the sloms of Tashkent' and he is a coarse man but he is devoted to his wife to the point of obsession, creating a pink and gold sanctum for her in Lily Cottage. He is determined that she be well, she has no complaints against him as a husband, reminiscing to her daughter Peggy about their idyllic early married life in Tashkent when storks roosted on the roof. Aged only eighteen, Mrs Pearson had giggled that it must mean a baby would come and her husband had assured her that he would see to it. Peggy wants to know the source of her mother's malady but it is shrouded in a mystery; Mrs Pearson had been a medium and her ailment seems to stem from that. The Pearsons seem so very nearly normal - Peggy works as a companion-cum-dogsitter and appears to have a Dark Secret but it turns out to be utterly mundane. Yet when Mr Pearson gives his wife Erika as an au pair, Mrs Pearson exclaims in delight that she has always wanted a daughter.It is strange to compare Starlight to Cold Comfort; the latter is a hilarious pastiche that borders on the surreal yet remains firmly planted in the natural world. Starlight appears to be a comedy of manners observing the different classes converging on each other - on the ground floor we have the well-off Mrs Pearson in her pink and gold rooms with her schatz Erika, then there is the working class Gladys and Annie and up in the attic the elderly and eccentric Mr Fisher who barely scratches a living. We also have the 'educated man' Mr Geddes, the 'rough diamond' Mr Pearson and the vapid new-money Mrs Lysaght - but Starlight is far, far away from Barbara Pym territory. It seems impossible that this is going to be a supernatural tale, there is far too much domestic detail ... but yet, we begin to recognise that something unsettling lurks within Mrs Pearson, something that got into her all those years ago and she has never been quite able to shake it off. Mrs Pearson hates the sound of the church bells, we are repeatedly reminded by Gibbons how strange the phrase is when Mrs Pearson remarks that she wishes to 'touch the pavements with my feet'. There is a sense of a darkness gathering and we begin to see more clearly the 'thing' behind Mrs Pearson's eyes.While another writer might ramp up the horror, Stella Gibbons does just the opposite. As well as pondering what might be going on in Lily Cottage, the vicar Mr Geddes considers at length whether or not he can justify inviting his mother to come keep house for him and the curate. When she finally arrives, she sweeps around the house claiming the territory for her own, throwing the cat out of the kitchen to its own space at the bottom of the garden. The cat much prefers this arrangement and develops a passionate adoration for Mrs Geddes, spending much of its time gazing at her and demanding to be stroked, prompting her to repeatedly mutter how much she dislikes cats and occasionally condescend to 'manipulate' the fur round its ears - Gibbons assures it that nobody could it stroking. Gibbon's eye for observation is as razor sharp here as it ever was in Cold Comfort - we can tell we are in the same hands but the direction we are moving in is quite different.It was always clear that Gibbons has very little truck with affectation. She has a real knack for creating characters for whom the reader can feel a real contempt. In Cold Comfort there was Mr Mybug who kept telling Flora that she was repressed while she politely sat there, bored rigid. Much of the humour in Westwood comes at the expense of Gerald Challis, a fabulously pompous writer who was in fact based on a real person. Here, the villain really is Mrs Lysaght, the foolish woman fixated on having a 'sitting', on passing on the gossip in as cruel a manner as possible. Gibbons does not suffer fools gladly and she always gives these characters the ultimate humiliation. Even before the grand finale though, Mr Geddes had unleashed the Polite Wrath of the Church of England when Mrs Lysaght vaguely pronounced that she was leaving the church as it was 'too narrow' and going to try her hand at meditating. It is so rare to read such a passionate defence of the church and it has become so easy to make the Anglican Church in particular the effortless punchline that Starlight was a double treat - here Mr Geddes and curate are all that can save the residents from the grasping evil.On page 193, Gibbons notes that spring has arrived, 'There were blue sky and warm sun and silver catkins and golden daffodils to be thankful for, as well as the alleged return from the dead of a gifted teacher with a messiah complex'. Yet despite this flippant remark, there is a conviction behind Gibbons' words against Mrs Lysaght, we see the author's true derision for people who dismiss Christianity as 'narrow' and 'out-dated' when they have no clear idea how to replace it, we sense her contempt for those who do not see that the 'narrow path' was one set down by Jesus. More importantly though, Gibbons points out that only airheads like Mrs Lysaght with nothing better to do would ever come up with something so half-baked in the first place. The rest of us lead busy lives and are too occupied with our own affairs.Gibbons never dwells on the horror that is happening in her novel. The characters seem to be unsurprised when the kindly Mr Fisher is suddenly wiped out in a senseless act of violence - it is never explained or even questioned. Mr Fisher, who changed his name every month, who was silently but passionately anti-war, who saw to the truth of things and tried to do the right thing - in an ordinary novel, he is not a character who dies. The very unexpectedness of it adds to the shock. Similarly, when events in the cottages reach their crescendo, we arrive late at the scene, having travelled with Mr Geddes. Gladys has to anxiously explain what has happened - Mrs Lysaght has already fled in hysterics, desperate to find a taxi and everybody else is keen to bail out too. Gibbons never ever names the evil being that has entered the house - the manner of its banishment is exhausting yet again so understated. We only hear the aftermath via Gladys and Annie yet I never felt cheated as I did upon finishing The Vet's Daughter because Starlight has a stronger emphasis on the realism rather than the magic. Gibbons' characters have a far greater bite than those drawn by Barbara Comyns - Gladys and Annie pick themselves up and chat vaguely about what has just happened but we sense that it will fade as an anecdote as they move on. This felt like a truly three-dimensional tale - oddly enough, it felt very real, the lurking darkness within Mrs Pearson a true threat. Never written to shock, Starlight is a tale for the fireside and embodies all that is great about British fictional traditions. It was a true pleasure to discover another fantastic novel by Stella Gibbons.For my full review: http://girlwithherheadinabook.blogspo...A viral Starlight By Stella Gibbons am Kindle Gladys and Annie Barnes are impoverished sisters who have seen better times They live in a modest cottage in the backstreets of Highate with Mr Fisher, a mild but eccentric old man living secretively in the attic above them Their quiet lives are thrown into confusion when a new landlord takes over, a dreaded and unscrupulous rackman He installs his wife in part of theGladys and Annie Barnes are impoverished sisters who have seen better times They live in a modest cottage in the backstreets of Highate with Mr Fisher, a mild but eccentric old man living secretively in the attic above them Their quiet lives are thrown into confusion when a new landlord takes over, a dreaded and unscrupulous rackman He installs his wife in part of the cottages in the hope that there she will recover from an unspecified malady With a mounting sense of fear, Gladys and Annie become convinced she is possessed by an evil spirit. Stella Dorothea Gibbons was an English novelist, journalist, poet and short story writer.Her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, won the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize for 1933 A satire and parody of the pessimistic ruralism of Thomas Hardy, his followers and especially Precious Bain by Mary Webb the loam and lovechild genre, as some called it, Cold Comfort Farm introduces a self confident young woman, quite self consciously modern, pragmatic and optimistic, into the grim, fate bound and dark rural scene those novelists tended to portray.. The best Kindle Starlight This is not the book to read if you are expecting a light hearted novel with perhaps some elements of the fantastic. This is a story woven with the blue and the dim and the dark cloths of night a story that touches on themes of old age and illness, of loneliness and the fear of the harsh and pitiless world out there, themes of poverty, selfishness and occasionally even of racism. At its very heart lies evil: that of possession by an evil spirit that we don’t like to believe in but which the writer seems to take very seriously and that of senseless violence, that very real face of evil that has become a daily aspect of our urban environments. And yet for all that it is not a very dark novel. The darkness is lightened and relieved by threads enwrought with the golden and silver light of dignity and love and human kindness and when I closed this book the preponderant emotion was that of hope rather than despair.I will admit that the demonic possession element of the story is likely to alienate many readers either because they will view it as ‘so much nonsense’ or because they will consider it to be too creepy. And it stands in contrast to the rest of the novel which is told with humour and with some sympathy for the characters even where they are not being particularly likeable. All in all I’m glad I’ve read this book. I’m glad I’ve met Gladys who tries to hide her heart of gold behind ‘a no nonsense’ front, her sister Annie, eccentric old Mr Fisher, the vicar….. and I’m glad that through these pages I was able to breathe in the atmosphere of a time long gone in a rather special part of London (Hampstead Heath and its environs).
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  1. Stella Dorothea Gibbons was an English novelist, journalist, poet and short story writer.Her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, won the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize for 1933 A satire and parody of the pessimistic ruralism of Thomas Hardy, his followers and especially Precious Bain by Mary Webb the loam and lovechild genre, as some called it, Cold Comfort Farm introduces a self confident young woman, quite self consciously modern, pragmatic and optimistic, into the grim, fate bound and dark rural scene those novelists tended to portray.

834 Reply to “Starlight”

  1. This is not the book to read if you are expecting a light hearted novel with perhaps some elements of the fantastic This is a story woven with the blue and the dim and the dark cloths of night a story that touches on themes of old age and illness, of loneliness and the fear of the harsh and pitiless world out there, themes of poverty, selfishness and occasionally even of racism At its very heart lies evil that of possession by an evil spirit that we don t like to believe in but which the writer [...]


  2. I really thoroughly enjoyed this novel from Stella Gibbons, which was undeservedly out of print for many years before Vintage brought it back for us It is fair to say that it is quite a strange, dark novel rather different to Cold Comfort Farm which is what most people associate Stella Gibbons with Gladys and Annie are elderly sisters living in two rooms in one half of a pair of dilapidated cottages in a quiet back street of London Annie is bedridden while Gladys attends church and cleans at a l [...]


  3. Stella Gibbons has the reputation of being a one hit wonder Cold Comfort Farm both immortalised her name but also overshadowed everything else she ever wrote A few years ago Vintage decided that this was terribly unfair and decided to re issue her back catalogue I had a go at Westwood given that Lynn Truss claimed that it was the Persuasion to Cold Comfort s Pride and Prejudice but alas I found it a bit grim at the time I was still living with my parents and found a few too many parallels with t [...]


  4. I was thrilled to find out that Vintage Classics is reprinting some Gibbons and rushed to buy several from UK I had only read Cold Comfort Farm, of course, hilarious and easily her best known book, and Nightingale Wood, a charming, slightly satirical Cinderella story, which Virago reprinted a couple of years ago Starlight is very different from both of those in plot and setting, but shares the same keen eye for social class differences Gladys and Annie Barnes are sisters living in near poverty i [...]


  5. I just finished reading Starlight and am feeling a bit gobsmacked I had only read Cold Comfort Farm and Westwoood, so was really not expecting what this book delivered In fact, I might not have read it at all had I known about the plot beforehand Like a couple of the book s characters, I m not into creepy other than the CCF kind Stella Gibbons was a talented writer than I had realized, because I was not at all put off by the plot developments Gibbons can certainly write characters In this book [...]


  6. Starlight is three unrelated ideas in search of a book It s occasionally funny it s by Stella Gibbons, after all but it is very uneven in tone, and as a short book with a large cast, it is almost inevitably shallow and unsatisfying I m surprised to see the number of reviews that describe Starlight as dark The first few chapters or so are fairly dark and, interestingly, could have been written as a stage play , but there is an abrupt change of tone when we realize that what we thought was going t [...]


  7. I loved this book I have only given it three stars because I don t think it s a great book, but it is a good one and I did love it It is unusual, increasingly so, thanks to the supernatural element Some bits didn t quite work for me don t want to give plot spoilers , but the characters and their situations were wonderful and wonderfully drawn It s a book I kept longing to go back and read and read slowly as I got towards the end as I knew I would miss it a lot I loved the atmosphere and the wor [...]


  8. I bought this book, something I rarely do any, because Stella Gibbons also wrote Cold Comfort Farm CCF is one of those books that the reader hates to see end So, I wanted to see how this sterling English writer from the 1930s through the 60s fared in later books Starlight was not as funny as CCF but had the same affectionate skewering of her characters There s nothing phony or patronizing about Ms Gibbons relationship with her characters She doesn t tar her villains nor sanctify her heroes This [...]


  9. I really enjoyed this book after nearly giving up after the first chapter The characters came to life, reminded me of Dorothy Whipple s ability to take the front off a house and let you look inside Interesting to see a slice of life in post war London Had to google what a rackman was This is my favourite Stella Gibbons yet, was so glad to find she has written many .


  10. I wanted to reread Bassett after I finished it Truly I m not sure that feeling has left me This is not Bassett And, it is also kind of extraordinary And weird Stella Gibbons is responsible for making me read a book that is largely but not entirely about a woman possessed by an evil spirit That is a surprising sentence I m not the type that goes for books that concern themselves with exorcising is that how you spell that demons I might have to revise this sentiment I kept reading And, really, I a [...]


  11. I love Stella Gibbons novels and this one, despite taking one of the strangest turns, was no different It started off by introducing us to two elderly sisters Gladys and Annie living in a boarding house with their quirky neighbours Then their lives are turned upside down when new landlords Mr and Mrs Pearson take over and begin to make changes This, I thought, would be what the plot of the novel revolves around How very wrong I was What starts off as a lovely little social comedy takes a very da [...]


  12. The main thing I really loved was the characters and the main characters I really loved were the elderly The character of Gladys was hilarious and so well drawn I could really hear her voice in my head and while I could see that she might be an irritating sort to know, she was a delight to read Her sister Annie was great too, the dialogue between these too was so well written, it was so natural and accented What I got of with Annie was her appearance, I could see her perfectly and hear Gladys p [...]


  13. This could have scored a lot highly if it hadn t veered off towards the end into a pretty infantile take on religion I m not saying that religion can t be treated intelligently, just that there is a certain monsters under the bed concept that can take root when you re 6 years old and if that never gets revised then it can make an otherwise mature author sound like a very daft bunny indeed Graham Greene whose work I love steers close to the kamikaze with his nursery room Catholicism at times, mo [...]


  14. I read STARLIGHT many years ago I remembered enjoying it, that it dealt, perhaps rather unexpectedly for the author, with demoniac possession what would Flora Poste have said and one detail of that exorcism the patient, endless repetition of the demand for the demon s name But what I had not remembered is what a very good book this is I am so glad I now have a copy that belongs to me and I can go back to when I wish The description of London, the way the author catches the feeling of the place i [...]


  15. Lynne Truss, in her introduction to these recently re issued novels, said what I d always thought, too that Stella Gibbons had written one book and that was Cold Comfort Farm I d figured that if you d written such a pearler, why write another But Lynne did a bit of digging and found that Stella Gibbons was no Harper Lee, and had actually written twenty five novels, three volumes of short stories, and four volumes of poetry Starlight is one of the twenty five that have been resurrected, and the c [...]


  16. Despite having read numerous reviews, I was still surprised at just how dark this book is couldn t be any different to Cold Comfort Farm and Westwood.The last couple of chapters thoroughly creeped me out and I think I read the whole last half of the book faster than any last half of any book in recent memory Gibbons builds the tension incredibly well and cliche alert I couldn t put the book down towards the end.Fantastically well written and incredibly creepy can t believe this was out of print [...]


  17. I was astonished by Cold Comfort Farm, a book club choice from last year so I ve been continuing to read by Stella Gibbons who is now thankfully being republished by Vintage Classics Starlight is the story of the existence of two elderly sisters living in a lodging house in post WW2 London The setting consists of the house and the small village area consisting mainly of the church and local shops that make up the small, almost claustrophobic world of the spinsters Its a beautifully observed sto [...]


  18. A very unusual book which succeeded in keeping me intrigued, while also making me smile with its characters and conversations The scenes with the sisters and their conversations with their neighbours are straight out of an Ealing comedy, but there is also a darker truth that lies behind the day to day, such as Mr Fisher s fate The north London setting is very well portrayed, as is the austere simplicity of the time Quite what it was all about is an open question, so a good candidate for a readin [...]


  19. It wasn t badly writtenI just found this rather boring The first half was a struggle and I nearly gave up several times I skim read the second half and was rewarded by an amusing fight between 3 old ladies and their dogs, well written with shades of the dry humour of Cold Comfort Farm Overall, disappointing I don t think it helped that the main character was an annoying old lady who reminded me of a particularly annoying old lady ex neighbour who I was always glad to have moved away from


  20. This is a very strange book, difficult to describe or categorize humor rubbing shoulders with horror Except for a few passages, it was not a page turner for me, but though it took me a while to work my way through it, I found it intriguing I wouldn t recommend this book to just anyone, as I think it would bore most also, I think I am unlikely to want to reread it in the near future ever but I m glad I ve read it once This is an interesting story about an unusual collection of characters The char [...]


  21. I have to admit the cover drew me in with this and the fact that I had finished my first Stella Gibbons book a few weeks before, Nightingale Wood, which I loved.This however was a lot darker and seemed a little all over the place Parts of it were compelling and the last few pages had a twist I did not see coming.Some of the characters were deplorable and some quite lovable Maybe I should try her masterpiece Cold Comfort Farm next.


  22. Think I may be a bit of a simple reader, I don t think I really got this book To my mind the story about the 2 Barnes sisters was interesting as was the descriptions of daily life in London The occult part of the story didn t really work wasn t enough of it or developed fully Also somehow found it difficult to actually read, my mind kept wandering off so I got in a bit of a muddle Interesting, but not for me I think.


  23. I loved Cold Comfort farm and was surprised that it took me several chapters to get into this book From then on, I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful mix of characters and the contrasts and interactions between them It was fascinating to be shown the characters through the eyes of the author as well as through those of the other characters, from the varying social mix in the book The creepy aspect of the story was scarey and convincing


  24. Stella Gibbons wrote than Cold Comfort Farm Who knew I am now on a quest to read everything she ever wrote she s that good If Jane Austen were alive, she d have approved of this one, the story of two elderly spinsters living in poverty, their eccentric neighbor, and the rackman, their landlord, who gives off a distinct evil vibe.


  25. I found this rather chilling, but wonderful It s a very odd book and a far cry from Cold Comfort Farm but Stella Gibbons cannot go wrong for me.I d love to get hold of a copy I got it out of the library but it appears to be changing hands in hardback for around 100 now




  26. This was a re read This is a very strange book in its genre blending, except that it doesn t treat what it s doing as genre but as all part of the same story But Gibbons can do this.




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