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Nightingale Wood (VMC) Paperback – 2 Apr 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844085724
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844085729
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 135,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


NIGHTINGALE WOOD is in essence, a sprawling, delightful, eccentric fairy tale . . . There is romance galore, a transformative dress, and a ball, much dizzy kissing in hedgerows and beyond, spying, retribution and runaways, fights and a fire, poetry and heartbreak, a few weddings AND funerals, and a fairytale ending with a twist. What luxury to stumble upon this quirky book, and the fascinating modern woman who wrote it. It is a rare unadulterated pleasure and high time for its encore (Sophie Dahl)

Book Description

A modern, satirical fairytale that has been unavailable for decades, by the author of COLD COMFORD FARM

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Oh what a lovely lovely book.

I am learning humility late in life as I discover and love authors I turned my nose up at years ago. Stella Gibbons joins these distinguished ranks and I am going to own up and say I have never read Cold Comfort Farm (I now have a copy waiting to go), despite the fact that the author used to be a regular reader at HIghgate Library where I worked in the 1960s. She was a very quiet, elegant, charming lady and though I knew who she was, I was not overwhelmed with excitement as I was then a stripling of 18 and not impressed by what I saw as authors of 'nice' books. I do remember her coming in one morning looking rather cross and her telling me that she had had a wonderful idea for a book which came to her in the middle of the night, only she did not write it down, and now she had forgotten it. I wonder which one that was?

In Nightingale Wood we meet Viola Withers, a young penniless widow, who is forced to live with her late husband's family in a cold joyless house. Mr Wither, a miser and a misery who rules the roost and who will not let his daughter Madge have a dog, Mrs Wither who thinks Viola is just a common shop girl and Tina, who is in love with Saxon, the chauffeur.

Viola meets and falls in love with Victor Spring, the local Prince Charming, dashing, handsome, rich and clever, but who dallies with her feelings while becoming engaged to the oh so suitable, but shrewish, Phyllis. Viola finds her life repressive and boring but can see no future other than to stay where she is and moulder away. She yearns for freedom and happiness:

"She looked across the saltings to where the sea was and as she lifted her face, rosy with the steady smoothing of the cold wind, the sun darted a bright gold beam across the marshes......
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Format: Paperback
Nightingale Wood is a kind of buffer state outside the village; a handy place for confrontational or dramatic meetings, but most of the action takes place in, and the outside world is seen through the prism of, the Withers' household in Essex, where the newly widowed daughter-in-law Viola is shortly to arrive and take up residence. The patriarchical Mr Withers could be said, in Siegfried Sassoon's words, "to hunt a bitch pack" as there are two unmarried daughters, his wife, and three women in the kitchen, and only the god-like chauffeur Saxon to redress the balance. One further "character" haunts the book, like a spectre at the feast, and that is Money. The ups and downs of Mr Withers's financial affairs govern the daily happiness at The Eagles and affect the atmosphere crucially. He is like a marionette whose puppeteer is £sd.

"never could be sure what his money was up to........ he prowled uneasily after it in the financial columns of the Press".

"Mr. Withers's heart was fairly light as he set out for a walk ....... it was a fine day, the money was better..."

"Mr Withers, because the money had again rallied, was on top of the world. He showed it by suddenly giving the four women a pound each."

"It is a beautiful sight, Victor's money. It grows: it runs healthily round the country like a sound bloodstream: it never suffers from the palpitations and nerve storms that affect Mr. Withers's money".

It could be said that worrying about his money has robbed Mr Withers of many simple pleasures, and he acts in an emotional vacuum, completely unaware of the concerns and desires of the other women under his roof, except to deny and control them.
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Format: Paperback
It was really interesting to read another book by Stella Gibbons as, like many others, I adore "Cold Comfort Farm".

Though there is much similar humour in this book, it is more of a slow burn. Gibbons takes her time in setting up each of her characters in detail along with the setting of the novel. This perhaps could have done with more editing for contemporary taste. However, it marks something of the transition from the Victorian of detailed background and development to the modern fast-paced, story driven bestseller.

Viola is rather wimpy as a heroine, but becomes more endearing the better you get to know her and comes into her own as a character within the last third of the book. If seen as the main character, she is too insipid, but when the reader realises that there are half a dozen major characters she fits brilliantly.

That's a point - you have to realise there are six main characters and that took me a while. Once that perspective is in place it is easier to see how the book is balanced. All of them have quite major faults and are completely human.

Stella Gibbons does a wonderful job of putting believable people on the page. She conjures her contemporary era well: its people, buildings and attitudes. The hotel at Stanton is an excellent evocation of holiday behaviour in those proper times.

If anything, the most sympathetic character is Tina Wither whose growing maturity calls for empathy every step of the way along her affair with Saxon. A lovely romance ending in a very grounded marriage. Fortunately we also have the silly romance and marriage of Viola and Victor to create equipoise.

Hetty and Madge are characters straight off the comedy stage of the thirties, and Phyl is a bitch-villainess par excellence.

But there are lots of great characters here; it is like and not like "Cold Comfort Farm" and worth the read - it was a really good idea of Virago to re-print this.
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