I told Helen my story and she went home and cried.
Some impulse buys really have the element of satisfying surprise and Barbara Comyns’ Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is definitely one of them. Found on a ‘Novellas’ table at the Bath branch of Waterstones, I was drawn into this previously unheard of author and book by the art deco cover and quirky title and have been captivated by its delightfulness ever since!
Offering a snapshot of bohemian 1930s London, this story follows the dreams and ambitions of the young Sophia Fairclough as she falls desperately in love with the young painter Charles and they begin their fantastically optimistic married life together. But marrying at the age of twenty-one with the idea that creativity and love is enough to survive on soon falls flat and Sophia is left to struggle. Faced with the challenge of supporting not only her stubborn, non-conformist husband but the inevitable children, Sophia goes on a journey to discover what it is she wants out of life and learns that only she can go out and get it. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is a wonderfully detailed look at Sophia’s trials and tribulations as she struggles to gain her sense of self away from the labels of ‘wife’ and ‘mother’.
Chatty and conversational in style, it is so easy to devour and become swept away in the quirky humour of Sophia’s world, a humour created by her matter-of-fact tone. With quite a focussed story on poverty in the 1930s, detailing the difficulties our heroine faces – a loveless marriage, an affair, children unwanted by their father(s), interfering family members, an artistic lifestyle that doesn’t put food on the table… to name but a few! While it would be quite easy for this little novel to fall into the dark and depressing what undeniably saves it (and makes it, in my opinion) is Sophia’s voice. Eccentric, naïve and bordering on the childlike, you can’t help but root for this hapless, romantic girl in whose life you become embroiled. She is a heroine you can’t help but love, a woman with whom you could quite happily put the world to rights with over a large glass of wine.
With a splash of eternal optimism and the hope of a better life, Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is a charming little bohemian novella to cherish and revisit.