Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (Paperback)
NYRB Classics, 9781590178966, 224pp.
Publication Date: November 10, 2015
“I told Helen my story and she went home and cried.” So begins Our Spoons Came from Woolworths. But Barbara Comyns’s beguiling novel is far from tragic, despite the harrowing ordeals its heroine endures.
Sophia is twenty-one and naïve when she marries fellow artist Charles. She seems hardly fonder of her husband than she is of her pet newt; she can’t keep house (everything she cooks tastes of soap); and she mistakes morning sickness for the aftereffects of a bad batch of strawberries. England is in the middle of the Great Depression, and the money Sophia makes from the occasional modeling gig doesn’t make up for her husband’s indifference to paying the rent. Predictably, the marriage falters; not so predictably, Sophia’s artlessness will be the very thing that turns her life around.
About the Author
Barbara Comyns (1909–1992) was born in Bidford-on-Avon, in the English county of Warwickshire, one of six children of an increasingly unsuccessful Birmingham brewer. Living on the run-down but romantic family estate and receiving her education from governesses, she began to write and illustrate stories at the age of ten. After her father’s death, she attended art school in London and married a painter, with whom she had two children she supported by trading antiques and classic cars, modeling, breeding poodles, and renovating apartments. A second marriage, to Richard Comyns Carr, who worked in the Foreign Office, took place during World War II. Comyns wrote her first book, Sisters by a River (1947), a series of sketches based on her childhood, while living in the country to escape the Blitz, which is also when she made an initial sketch for The Vet’s Daughter (available as an NYRB Classic). This, however, she put aside to complete Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950) and Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954). The Vet’s Daughter was published in 1959. Among Comyns’s other books are the novels The Skin Chairs (1962) and The Juniper Tree (1985; forthcoming from NYRB Classics), and Out of the Red into the Blue (1960), a work of nonfiction about Spain, where she lived for eighteen years.
Emily Gould is the author of the essay collection And the Heart Says Whatever and the novel Friendship. She is the co-owner of Emily Books and lives in Brooklyn.
Praise For Our Spoons Came from Woolworths…
"A Depression-era artist struggles with crippling poverty and sexism in bohemian London; the result is a surprisingly charming and funny novel...Much of the story revolves around issues of reproduction, housework, and economic opportunity that contemporary feminists would see as questions of justice. But Sophia narrates a story of fairy tale-like fatality, casting an amused, self-deprecating light on even the most painful moments." —Kirkus starred review
"A startling, immersive excavation of poor, young womanhood and marriage gone awry in 1930s London.” —Jane Yong Kim, BOMB magazine
“Our Spoons contains one of the best distillations of Comyns' peculiar style currently available stateside, and is essential for understanding her dark, delightful oeuvre...calculatedly meek, yet sharp enough to give you paper cuts.” —Amy Gentry, Chicago Tribune
“Her capturing of youth is so fresh and accurate that nothing is lost in the passing of decades. There is a modern sensibility at play in her women and their experiences, their attitudes and reactions towards love and sex, marriage and having children...quietly startling...Comyns’s skill is subtle and surprising...I felt both thrill and pride, and I expect as her work continues to be reissued this sense of finding a hidden gem will be shared by other readers, startled and attracted by her talent.”—Lauren Goldenberg, Music and Literature
“A curious hybrid: a mixture of domestic disaster, social commentary, comedy, and romance...What I find so really excellent in this novel, in addition to Comyns’s powers of description and the slow fuse of her comedy, is her ability to show the cold world and its indecencies without spelling everything out...Comyns is a virtuoso at portraying bad behavior...written beautifully, with dash and economy, and…truly unique in [its] eccentric black comedy, whether grotesque or ineffably subtle.” —Katherine A. Powers, The Barnes & Noble Review
"I defy anyone to read the opening pages and not to be drawn in, as I was . . . Quite simply, Comyns writes like no one else" --Maggie O'Farrell
"Comyn's voice has childlike qualities; she looks at everything in the world as though seeing it for the first time. In later books, though, her narrators' naivety is deployed in order to provoke horror; the gap between what the reader knows and the narrator doesn't serves to make the reader fascinated and fearful." --Emily Gould, The Awl
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- In the introduction to Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, Emily Gould writes, “[T]he destabilizing inconsistency of tone that [Comyns] cultivates…is entirely deliberate” (viii). Where did you find instances of this in the novel, and to what effect?generic viagra price canada
- The book’s title comes from the first chapter of the book, in which Sophia, the narrator, describes the objects in the flat she shares with her soon-to-be husband, Charles. “We had a proper tea-set from Waring and Gillow, and a lot of blue plates from Woolworths; our cooking things came from there, too. I had hoped they would give us a set of real silver teaspoons when we bought the wedding-ring, but the jeweler we went to wouldn’t, so our spoons came from Woolworths, too.” What does this detail tell you about Sophia, and why do you think Barbara Comyns used it as the title of the book?generic viagra price canada
- Aunt Emma is a minor character in the book, but someone who Sophia and Charles “both admired…immensely” (5). Sophia says of Emma, “She…was altogether very intellectual and interested in women’s rights, but she disliked children, babies in particular…” (6). Why do you think Comyns included Emma in the novel? What do you make of Sophia’s admiration for Emma?generic viagra price canada
- At the beginning of Chapter Nine, Sophia describes an imaginary dialogue between two characters, and concludes, “That is the kind of stuff that appears in real people’s books. I know this will never be a real book that business men in trains will read…” (41) In what way does this scene add to your understanding of Comyn’s intent as an author?generic viagra price canada
- Did you find Our Spoons Came from Woolworths to be a subversive novel, and in what ways?generic viagra price canada
- How are the scenes about women’s health, childbirth, and abortion still relevant today?generic viagra price canada
- What were your first impressions of Peregrine, and how did they change by the end of the novel, when Sophia visits him at home and meets his wife?generic viagra price canada
- When Sophia goes to work for Mr. Redhead, she “adopts” a small fox, which she refers to as “Foxy.” What role does Foxy play as both a character and a symbol in the novel?generic viagra price canada
- Our Spoons Came from Woolworths begins “I told Helen my story and she went home and cried.” At the book’s conclusion, Sophia sits in her garden with Helen and begins to tell her story. Why do you think Comyns framed the narrative in this way?generic viagra price canada
- Do you consider the book’s conclusion a “happy ending”? If so, how does Comyns avoid writing a “happy ending” that is too saccharine, or unbelievable?generic viagra price canada