Review: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

My Review:
Our Spoons come from WoolworthsThis book is narrated by Sophia Fairclough, the main character of the book and deals with her rather difficult life during the 1930’s in London.  The language is very simple and straightforward, which is so fitting for Sophia; it’s as if we are reading her diary or sitting and listening to her story over an afternoon cup of tea.

Sophia meets Charles and they instantly fall in love and decide that they want to get married.  Even though they are only twenty-one years old and his family does not approve of her at all, they decide to get married.  They settle on a “secret” and “private” marriage at the local church, but they tell so many people that on the day of the ceremony the church is full of friends, family and odd acquaintances.

The book starts out on a very humorous tone as Sophia is extremely naïve about marriage, sex and motherhood.  Charles is an artist, a bit of a delicate genius, who can’t possibly put aside his art to get a proper job to support his wife.  Sophia is the main bread winner of the family and Charles is a terrible manager of their money.  Whenever they have a few extra shillings he spends it on frivolous things like painting supplies, wine and dinners.  Sophia is too naïve about living life as an adult to ask that her husband go out and get a job.  When she becomes pregnant and is forced to quit her job Charles is annoyed at having a baby in the house and having his only source of income cut off.

The scenes in which Sophia finds out about her pregnancy are absolutely hilarious.  She is genuinely surprised that she could be having a baby at all;  she thinks that if she wills herself not to be pregnant then she won’t have a baby.  When she goes to the hospital to have the baby she is shocked by the poking and prodding and the indignity of the whole process, right down to the horrible hospital bed clothes that she is forced to wear.

It is obvious from the very first sentence of the book that Sophia and Charles’ marriage does not end well.  As their marriage becomes increasingly difficult financially, emotionally and physically, Charles stays away from their home for longer and longer periods of time.  The humor that was spread throughout the first part of the book is noticeably absent in the send half of Sophia’s tale.  She suffers a great deal as her marriage disintegrates.

But in the end, Sophia learns an important lesson about resiliency and happy endings.  Even though she has suffered many trials and tribulations with and because of Charles she never becomes jaded or bitter.  She is guarded, yes, but never bitter.

The New York Review of Books has brought another brilliant classic to our attention.  I highly recommend this book for its humor, interesting storyline, and strong female character in the form of Sophia.


About the Author:
B ComynsBarbara Comyns Carr was educated mainly by governesses until she went to art schools in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Her father was a semi-retired managing director of a Midland chemical firm. She was one of six children and they lived in a house on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire. She started writing fiction at the age of ten and her first novel, Sisters by a River, was published in 1947. She also worked in an advertising agency, a typewriting bureau, dealt in old cars and antique furniture, bred poodles, converted and let flats, and exhibited pictures in The London Group. She was married first in 1931, to an artist, and for the second time in 1945. With her second husband she lived in Spain for eighteen years.


Filed under British Literature, Classics, Literary Fiction, New York Review of Books

11 responses to “Review: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

  1. What a provocative title! Adding it to my TBR list 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely! I have a copy of an old Virago edition of this novel on my bookshelf – a charity-shop find from earlier this year. I’m looking forward to it immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. To date this is the only Barbara Comyns I have read. I really enjoyed it, quirky and darkly comic with a great character in Sophia.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve heard a number of people speak of this positively. I wonder what other writers you feel she is like?


    • The humor and the characters reminded me of Greenery Street that was published by Persephone Books. The more serious parts of the book that deal with marriage reminded me of Elizabeth Taylor novels I’ve read (like A View of the Harbor or A Game of Hide and Seek).


  5. Jonathan

    I read The Vet’s Daughter last year and was impressed with it enough to want to read more by her. This one may be my next one. BTW I love the cover to the NYRB version.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kelly Buckley

    Wonderful review, thanks for sharing.I haven’t heard of this book but will certainly add to my list.


  7. Thank you for this review. You have reminded me of a book that I really enjoyed but it was so long ago I think I should revisit it.
    The title seemed timeless when I read it, but all Woolworths have disappeared.


  8. Definitely adding this one to my list!


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