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on 25 August 2017
The author writes with a most original first voice. A poignant and evocative novel which flows quickly; a real page turner
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on 21 February 2003
I have read this book a number of times since I was a teenager and just reread it in one delightful sitting yesterday. Comyns has a fantastic voice, and its hard to believe that the book isn't biographical. Set in Bohemian London in the Thirties, Sophia is a young woman married to artist Charles. The book sees her through poverty, pregnancy, and infedility though at all times is touching, humourous and historically interesting. One of the things I've always liked best about this book is the fact that is unchallenging and easy to read but is a genuinely excellent piece of English literature. I have read little of her other works, but what I have read I've also deeply enjoyed.
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on 11 August 2013
It was a good read...very much of its time. Barbara Comyns writes well...I found the heroine very sympathetic but the male characters on the whole were particularly ineffectual.
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VINE VOICEon 26 April 2015
The reason I bought this book is simply because of the title. Woolworths was a memory of my childhood, from being separated from my mum, to the pick and mix, to even remembering getting meat cut at the meat counter, it was where I bought my first single on cassette and where you went to buy your Easter eggs and Christmas chocolate. If you needed something you would find it in "Woolies".

As does Sophia, she got her spoons in Woolworths. Except this is not the mid-eighties but some fifty years earlier in the mid-thirties.

Sophia has embarked on a marriage and I fell in love with her voice as from the beginning she tells us how she fell in love with Charles, a painter and the life they embark on together. The trouble is although they are people within society, they have chosen to live a bohemian life rather away from the constraints and rules of normal society.

It is funny to begin with and you feel the adventure that Sophia is on as she tries to embrace marriage, motherhood and ultimate poverty whilst maintaining this façade that her life is in fact the way she would have chosen it and she is of course happy to anyone observing. We are chosen to observe but we can see that Sophia is not happy.

However, a number of events have a life changing effect on Sophia and she experiences some truly happy moments amongst the tragedy.

This book is a glimpse into the private life of the author, as there is some autobiographical parts to this story, but also a glimpse into society and how you were treated when you were outside of the social norms.

Sophia is full of dreams as is her husband Charles, who just seemed to be dreaming of himself all the time and had no care for anything else. He thinks he is successful, therefore he must be, despite not being to make a living from his painting and relying on many others, and especially Sophia to survive financially. What an egotistical fool. I got the impression his work was not up to much.

The descriptions of childbirth, make you glad you that much has advanced in these years and that the surroundings that Sophia found herself in at different moments throughout her journey in the early part of her life were described so well it was if you were with her.

I had no idea where this book was going to take me, I just went with everything that Sophia was telling me.

This is a relatively short novel, and a rather quirky one and from an author I have never read before or knew anything about. It is a book I would thoroughly recommend to anyone to just get a glimpse about how life can be lived and that you can pull yourself out of many a situation if you have the gumption to see the other side of what life can be like.

Happiness is found in dreams and in reality.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 3 February 2017
First published in 1950 and set in the 1930s, Barbara Comyns' quirky, semi-autobiographical novel 'Our Spoons Came from Woolworths' focuses on the lovely Sophia, who is twenty years old and working in a commercial studio when she meets her future husband, Charles, a penniless easel painter. They marry as soon as Sophia is twenty-one, and move into rooms in a dilapidated London house costing twenty-five shillings a week and, as it is only Sophia who is bringing in any money, and only two pounds a week at that, they are naturally very hard-up. The limp and ineffectual Charles refuses to find a regular job and things become even more difficult when the naïve Sophia unexpectedly becomes pregnant - she tells us she thought birth control meant that 'if you controlled your mind and said "I won't have any babies" very hard, they most likely wouldn't come.' Charles, who is insensitive to everyone's needs other than his own, blames Sophia for the pregnancy and, when she becomes upset, tells her it's no use crying about it, and anyway perhaps she'll have a miscarriage. Sophia doesn't have a miscarriage, and her experience of giving birth and trying to bring up a child on very little money, whilst working as an artist's model, and doing all the shopping, cooking and cleaning, and then finding herself pregnant again, moves this story from what is initially a quirky and lighthearted tale of Bohemia to a novel with much deeper undertones.

Although from a middle-class background, Barbara Comyns' family situation was precarious; when she was fifteen her father died, leaving huge debts and her mother, who had been drinking steadily, had a breakdown. Barbara went to art school and then began working for an animation studio where she drew cartoons; when she was twenty-one she fell in love with a young painter and they moved into a dilapidated flat in north London. Two children later, and with a husband who refused to demean himself by working commercially, the family were forced to move to increasingly cheaper lodgings where Barbara and her children suffered from a lack of food, heat and hot water and were prey to illnesses. Therefore, 'Our Spoons Came from Woolworths', although written as a novel, is one that is based rather heavily on fact. It is true that many parts of this novel are amusing to read and the giddy tone in which Sophia delivers her story lulls her readers into initially thinking this is going to be lighthearted entertainment all the way; however, as the story progresses, the reader soon realizes that there is a lot more to Sophia's tale than a quirky account of bohemian life - and it is all the better for that.

4 Stars.
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on 8 July 2013
This starts off as a light hearted comic story about a rather eccentric bohemian couple marrying against the advice of their families, but swiftly becomes a poignant story of survival during the lean years of the early 1930's. Sophia's husband treats her with an offhand selfishness and cruelty which sadly rings true throughout. Each new degradation, caused largely by his refusal to 'lower' himself by seeking actual work, is recounted with the same matter of fact style that is used throughout the novel. You cannot help but empathise with Sophia, or to be grateful that this story really does have a happy ending. I'll be looking out more by Barbara Comyns after this experience.
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on 25 January 2015
This really was not my cup of tea.
I found it very difficult to read as I wasn't sure what style the writer was going in. In the end I told myself to read it as if it were a diary do that i could forgive the writers writing style. The storyline I found to be very boring and I didn't fall in love with any of the characters and by the end of it thought the leading lady deserved everything she got. It may be you sort if book and you'll think "what was she talking about?" But I had to force myself to finish it and even though it's really short it felt like I was reading War and Peace.
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on 22 February 2004
If you're unfamiliar with Barbara Comyns' unique style, then this would be a good place to start. It is the (apparently semi-autobiographical) tale of the breakdown of an ill-starred marriage; and though the usual features of Comyns' novels are all here (a loveable, childlike first-person narrator; occasional touches of the macabre; a strange sense of things taking place at a certain slant to everyday reality), the book also has the intensity of personal experience. In place of the usual disclaimer about characters and events being purely fictitious, any resemblances being purely coincidental, etc., Comyns places a disarming little superscription: "The only things that are true in this story are the wedding and Chapters 10, 11 and 12 and the poverty."
Sophia, at the age of twenty-one, elopes with penniless young artist Charles to live the Bohemian life in London. She is an innocent abroad, who carries pet newt Great Warty about in her pocket and is ill-prepared for the real hardships of poverty and motherhood. An affair with an elderly art critic just makes the situation worse, and Sophia has to undergo a harrowing personal tragedy before ultimately finding unexpected happiness at the end of the book.
The seamless juxtapposition of the tragic and the macabre with lovingly drawn scenes from everyday life is completely typical of Comyns' writing, but reaches a new intensity in this novel, which as a result is extremely and unexpectedly moving. Comyns was a real Great British Eccentric, and coming across her work for the first time is an utter delight for the reader. If you haven't encountered her before, then do buy this book: I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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VINE VOICEon 28 February 2009
When the green Virago Modern Classics first came out I used to buy one regularly - frequently judging them by the picture on the cover. Many struck me as being dull and worthy. This little novel is one of the few of them that I have kept and re-read several times. It is an excellent book to cheer oneself up with: Sophia, the young mother who tells us part of her life story, (mostly set in 1930s Bohemian London), is an endearing, childlike, and rather foolish heroine with a fondness for newts. Her impulsive nature leads first to an unfortunate marriage with an impoverished painter, and later on to an affair with an ageing art critic. Poverty and pregnancies lead to disaster, but finally there is a very happy ending.

Although the book is rather light on the whole, there are sad parts too, and several vivid description of hospitals which make one very glad that medical science has moved on.

The prose style is very unusual - Sophia writes like quite a young child throughout, but all the same other characters emerge clearly through what they say for themselves.

This is perhaps not a great or an important novel, but many readers will cherish it.
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on 11 June 2007
I bought this book on the recommendation of reviews on Amazon, but was highly disappointed. It is the story of a young lady who marries a painter; then comes a baby, an affair, an attempt to find a job, and finally a happy, cheery resolution. An ordinary story written in extremely ordinary language - don't expect any vivid descriptions or sophisticated metaphors or any attemps to make the reader feel some sort of empathy for the narrator. It's all a straightforward plot made all the more uninteresting by the author's insistence on giving the narrator the voice of an immature girl, which turns out ridiculous sometimes. All the characters were shallow and none were particularly likeable; in fact, I didn't dislike them either so I was reading with complete indifference, and I hate a book which arouses no feelings in me. Spare yourself the irritation of reading something completely deprived of beauty, emotion, depth and lyricism and don't read this.
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