Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, The Classic Club

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns

Classic
4*s

What a brilliant way to kick off my first read for The Classics Club with the voice of a young woman who tells her story as a young mother in 1930’s London. The poverty is almost overshadowed by this young woman’s grit and her conversational tone when underplaying with a light touch some equally delightful and heart-wrenching events. I couldn’t help feeling that she would be appalled by the social media age where every day occurrences seem to be blown into a major drama.

Here the part which is used for the title perfectly sums up the style used throughout the novel:

I had hoped they would give us a set of real silver teaspoons when we bought the wedding-ring, but the jeweller we went to wouldn’t, so our spoons came from Woolworths, too.

We start with the young, and she was very young only twenty-one, woman embarking on married life, against the wishes of practically everyone, to Charles who is an artist. Sophia is a commercial artist but of course Charles needs to concentrate on his art rather than actually find a job and bring some money into the household. That’s Sophie’s job which she does with good humour. In the early days their love gets them through but at a time when contraception is not discussed Sophia soon discovers she’s having a baby.

I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said ‘I won’t have any babies’ very hard they most likely wouldn’t come. I thought this was what was meant by birth-control, but by this time I knew that idea was quite wrong.

The problem was that Charles did not want babies as they would disrupt his life and so Sophia is apologetic and fearful of how he will react.

As readers we know that this is a fictionalised autobiography of the author’s first marriage and that the events in chapters ten, eleven and twelve really happened. This covers the birth of Sophia’s son Sandro in a charity hospital in 1930’s London. It is horrific! Sophia is pulled from room to room having to lug her suitcase with her. Alone with the rude nurses she is as ever stoical about the experience which simply serves to make the revelations all the more horrifying from the perspective of eighty years later.

As the book goes on, the poverty bites and Sophia is in a constant battle between trying to keep Charles happy, to give Sandro what he needs and to keep the family’s head above water. Sometimes she is more successful than others. Inevitably the book takes a darker turn although the book’s tone never does as our protagonist continues to talk about events in an almost unnerving even voice.

There was no point being good or bad; everything was so dreadful in any case.

What a heart-breaking sentence! No major drama but those few words conjure up a whole level of misery that my longing was for someone to give this young woman some hope to keep her going. Of course all I could do was to keep reading and see where Sophia’s life led her…

I loved the book and I’m glad to say Sophia’s life does improve and we are reading about something she relayed to her friend Helen after the events.

I told Helen my story and she went home and cried. In the morning her husband came to see me and bought some strawberries, he mended my bicycle, too, and was kind, but he needn’t have been because it all happened eight years ago, and I’m not unhappy now.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is number 10 on The Classics Club list and the first one of my fifty reads that I’ve read and reviewed. A cracking start which had me riveted to this semi-biographical novel and one that makes me truly grateful that I was born when I was.

 

First Published UK: 1950
Publisher:Virago 
No of Pages: 209
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

26 thoughts on “Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns

  1. This does sound fabulous, Cleo. Just from the bit you’ve shared, I liked the voice, the tone, and the writing style. And, to me at least, it’s through the lives of ‘regular’ people like this that we get a real look at a particular era.

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  2. I was not familiar with the book or the author, but I might go see if my library has a copy. That husband – honestly, the deadbeat husband is so annoying, but at that time, women were encouraged to be stoic and manage. Great start to your Classics quest!

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    1. Those maternity scenes totally shocked me and if Sophia’s voice hadn’t been so engaging I’m not sure I would have been able to keep going (and that was relatively early on!) The problem with going for variety on my list is that I can see I’m going to be multiplying the number I want to read by discovering new authors along the way… but a brilliant problem to have.

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  3. I just finished this book. I loved it so much. The narration by Sophia is a literary Master work. The hospital scenes were very disturbing. I enjoyed your perceptive post a lot

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