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Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – 1 Apr 1987

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Paperback, 1 Apr 1987
£23.28 £9.10
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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: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,409,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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 alternate Paperback edition.

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 alternate Paperback edition.

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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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At times, oddly, I was reminded of Richard Brautigan's 'In Watermelon Sugar': an insular, tight-knit community - superficially attractive - visited by freak events and violent episodes. Elsewhere Comyn has been likened to Barbara Pym, which is perhaps more apt. (More twisted and playful, I would suggest.)

It's the first Comyn novel I have read and I have to say I enjoyed it. Refreshingly surprising in its graphic relish of unpleasant/phantasmagorical images and scenes most authors would respectfully overlook, the novel is a curious mix of upper middle class gentility and downright gleeful horror show.

Ultimately it ends up happily comic but its an eerily detached, ethereal resolution. Haunted by the too many easy, brutal events that have gone before. Curiously stimulating!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
cool
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