Good thing there are only a handful of those.
With so many possibilities I kept it simple. I chose Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
I’ve been meaning to read it forever. And I’m so glad I did! It’s funny, it’s satirical, it’s charming, the characters have wonderful voices and dimension beyond their use as satirical vehicles, and the story itself is family/makeover story fun.
Cold Comfort Farm, first published in 1932, is about recently orphaned socialite Flora Poste, who finds herself living with her Starkadder cousins on the gloomy Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex. The Starkadders are positively boiling over with doom, gloom, desperation, and the misery of the human condition. Aunt Ada Doom, who “saw something nasty in the woodshed” when she was two, rules over them all.
The parodies of novelists like Thomas Hardy, and, farther back, the Brontes, are pitch-perfect, especially in those sections where the narration shifts to the Starkadders themselves (shifts aided in the edition I read by asterisks). Spot-on word choice, a bleak atmosphere, the whole nine yards. You can hear the wuthering. And then in pops Flora with her energy and tidiness and desire to fix everything up neatly.
Flora is a delight. She’s a big believer in common sense and cannot abide a mess or untidiness of any sort, and her efforts to improve her country cousins one by one provide the best jokes in the book. Her sensible responses to the madness around her are comedy gold. Also, Flora’s not immune from authorial ribbing, either, what with her well-timed Jane Austen quotes. She’s a lot like Anne of Green Gables in a lot of ways, the more I consider it. So if you’ve always had a soft spot for Anne, you might like Flora as well.
As to the movie, it’s been years since I saw it and I confess I wasn’t watching very attentively. With the book so fresh in my mind I think it’d be an enjoyable watch–particularly with the cast! Kate Beckinsdale, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry (as the author Mybug, joy in the morning what a brilliant bit of casting!), Ian McKellan and Eileen Atkins are just among the top-billed cast members in John Schlesinger’s 1995 adaptation. Click here to go to the movie’s page on the Internet Movie Database. And here’s the New York Times review.
If you enjoy Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and/or books by Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse, and/or gentle satire with British sensibilities, pick up Cold Comfort Farm. It’s a fun, charming book, perfect for when you’re after a “nice story” in the traditional mode.