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Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – Apr 1987

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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Penguin USA (P); Reprint edition (April 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140161589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140161588
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2.5 x 12.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,554,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The strange off-beat talent of Barbara Comyns [whose] innocent eye observes with child-like simplicity the most fantastic or the most ominous occurrence. (Graham Greene) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Originally published in 1954, this strange novel with its macabre humour, speaks with Barbara Comyns' unique and magical voice. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Simon Thomas VINE VOICE on 1 Feb. 2008
Format: Paperback
Those of you who are more knowledgeable than I will have spotted that the title is from The Fire of Drift-Wood by Longfellow.

We spake of many a vanished scene,
Of what we once had thought and said,
Of what had been, and might have been,
And who was changed, and who was dead;

The only other Comyns I've read was Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, so she certainly has a way with titles. I bought Who Was Changed... a few years ago, partly because I'd quite enjoyed Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, partly because the mix of a Virago paperback and an interesting cover piqued my interest. Had I turned to the first sentence, I daresay I'd have read the novel much sooner: 'The ducks swan through the drawing-room windows.' How can you not want to read on?

The novel opens with a flood, and things get stranger and stranger. If I were to choose one word to describe this novel it would be "surreal" - but surreal in a very grounded manner. Exactly like the cover illustration, actually; part of 'Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta: Dinner on the Hotel Lawn' by Stanley Spencer. Throughout the events (which I don't want to spoil for you) Comyns weaves a very real, earthy, witty portrait of a village - especially the Willoweed family. A cantankerous old lady who won't step on land she doesn't own, Grandmother Willoweed, rules over her docile son, Ebin, and his young children Emma, Hattie and Dennis. Grandmother W is a truly brilliant creation - without the slightest feeling for anybody around her, she is still amusing rather than demonic. For some reason this novel was banned in Ireland upon publication in 1954 - perhaps for the occasional unblenching descriptions, but these are easily skipped if you, like me, can be a bit squeamish.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Book worm girl on 2 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
This is another absolute gem of a book by Barbara Comyns. Its atmosphere is wonderfully surreal, comic and grotesque. As a writer she does not shy away from describing anything and she has such an eye for the casual cruelties of family and community as well as their loving and supportive functions. The characters are really well built up and convincing, especially the children, but then Barbara Comyns is a bit of an expert when it comes to writing about and from the perspective of children - that is one of the features that makes her work (especially Who was changed) so notable. This one comes highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Hillyfields on 24 May 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was an unexpected, crazy, delight, conjuring up a mix of bucolic charm and almost medieval horror.The narrators voice feels authentic as Comyns young woman struggles towards adulthood.Why isnt this author better known?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A Surreal, Macabre Black Comedy! 6 Feb. 2004
By Catherine Decker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In a small village a flood causes some death for animals and humans. The bizarre nature of a small English village flames out as the first deaths are followed by more and more of an increasingly disturbed and shocking nature. The realistic depictions of death and violence make the few acts of love and humor stand out in the novel. The novel challenges our respect for death, showing us how the thrust for life and a person's deep immersion in their own living enables us to resist horror and death. Is this hypocritical, practical, heartbreaking, or admirable? We are challenged, amused, shocked, and disgusted in this short but transforming read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Fantastically weird and wonderful 25 April 2009
By LH422 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an utterly bizarre and tremendously enjoyable read. This novel follows a summer in the lives of professional idler Ebin Willoweed and his family: the perennially unhappy and tyrannical Grandmother Willoweed, the family servants, and Ebin's three children, including the daughter who is clearly the product of her mother's affair, as she is half black, and Ebin Willoweed is not. One might think that this forms the storyline, but it does not. Hattie Willoweed is completely accepted by family and community. Her mother's infidelity adds a layer to the already dysfunctional antics of the Willoweeds. The real story is miserable plague, which follows close on the heels of a flood. As villagers become horribly ill then committ suicide in fits of fury, it becomes clear that something strange is afflicting the town. Comyns recounts for us what happens to the undeniably bizarre Willoweeds in a bizarre set of circumstances. The consequences are bittersweet and surprising. I stayed up late reading this book- it really kept my attention, and I read it all in one sitting.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
If you love quirky British novels, (and who doesn't) this one is for you 15 Aug. 2012
By sb-lynn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

This novel is in most part about the Willowseed family who live in a rural English village. The time period is the late 1800's. The Willowseed household is ruled by their malevolent old matriarch referred to as Grandmother Willowseed. She is rude, loud, and incredibly mean-spirited. But she is in control of the money and thus rules the roost. Her son Ebin, a "slothful man", once held a job as a journalist but lost it due to his own malfeasance and incompetence. He is now dependent on his mother for everything and as such he must defer to her and follow her wishes. Also in the household are his three children, Emma (who dreams of courtship and romance), Dennis (a shy young boy, often ridiculed by Ebin), and Hattie, the youngest, who is obviously half-black although no one wishes to comment on that and the fact that this meant Ebin's deceased wife must have cheated on him. Hattie is Ebin's favorite, not the least because she seems the most fond of him.

Although the story centers around the Willowseeds and their two abused maids, Eunice and Norah, we are also introduced to a very typical village full of eccentrics and oddballs. But when a mysterious illness starts attacking many of the villagers, the story takes a darker turn when the investigation begins as to what is causing it and what must be done to make it go away.

I just adored this book. It is a very quick read - easily read in one sitting. It's quick not only because of its size (under 200 pages with large print), but also because it is a page-turner. What I loved most is that the story would go back and forth between the comedic and the tragic - sometimes in the same paragraph. The characters are all so quirky and yet so real and we see the story from different points of view. If you are a fan of quirky British novels, this book is for you.

If you haven't read Barbara Comyns before, I really recommend you give her a try. She is a terrific writer and you just can't go wrong reading her books. The Vet's Daughter (New York Review Books Classics)s another winner from her..
DON'T WAIT; JUST READ IT! 5 April 2014
By Larry Fineberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ms. Comyns was a great minor talent, but the word minor is misleading. She didn't write large, like Lear on the Heath, but she wrote intensely, not without humor, and with a particular vision rather like focusing a small telescope, and intensely! Her book takes place in a village after an unexpected flood, and is so arresting it's like being swept up in a strong current and carried away. It can't really be a film, but if Walt Disney was alive, and still daring, he would do it as an animated cartoon and it would be a classic forever. If you aren't hooked after 2 pages, you probably hate "The Wind In The Willows". Possibly not for very young children, certainly for adults, or any 10 year old with imagination and an inquiring mind.
Comyns 1 April 2014
By Mrs. Marielaine Church - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An exceptionally original writer ... like so many women ... disappeared from view ... so worth reading ... strong recommendation for all ...
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