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Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  362 ratings  ·  74 reviews
This is the story of the Willoweed family and the English village in which they live. It begins mid-flood, ducks swimming in the drawing-room windows, “quacking their approval” as they sail around the room. “What about my rose beds?” demands Grandmother Willoweed. Her son shouts down her ear-trumpet that the garden is submerged, dead animals everywhere, she will be lucky t ...more
Paperback, 193 pages
Published November 10th 2010 by Dorothy, a publishing project (first published 1954)
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Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara ComynsIn the Time of the Blue Ball by Manuela DraegerThe Wallcreeper by Nell ZinkDan by Joanna RuoccoCreature by Amina Cain
Dorothy, A Publishing Project
1st out of 10 books — 5 voters
Gone by Michael  GrantUnwind by Neal ShustermanThe Iron King by Julie KagawaThe Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick NessWicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
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408th out of 1,674 books — 2,081 voters

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Community Reviews

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this book was a perfect book to read directly after prayer for the dying. when i was reading the o'nan, i kept thinking "this is like an even sadder winesburg, ohio", even though that was a poor comparison. but i still feel that way. this one is closer to what an even more depressing winesburg would be, because it is also funny, which is an element not to be found in the o'nan.

but funny in the way that, as you are laughing, you are horrified.

there are several elements that, bizarrely, occur in
Nate D
Oct 26, 2014 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: ducks in the drawing room
Recommended to Nate D by: pastoral hysteria
First caught my eye via the incredible title, before I realized I'd been meaning to read this for a while. And it's great, the best thing I've read this month, probably. Comyns shares certain peculiarities of tone, observation, and conviction, perhaps, with interwar favorites Jane Bowles and Denton Welch, but seems initially to be taking things into much more phantasmagorical territory. Initially we have the macabre pastoral British landscape, a flood, unexplained public suicides, creeping madne ...more
Jun 11, 2013 Mariel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: dead animals floating everywhere
Recommended to Mariel by: baker acts
As soon as the funeral was over, and before the mourners had hardly left, the uninvited surged into the churchyard to watch the gravedigger fill the grave with clods of clay so recently removed and to examine the dying wreaths. They were accompanied by many dogs.

Grandmother Willoweed commissions a boat to transport her to the funeral of the summer. The rest are a bunch of Johnny come latelys. The doctor's wife finally kicked it after extending her wifely presence beyond the sick room. I'm sure
Jeff Jackson
Sep 27, 2012 Jeff Jackson rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jeff by: Brian Evenson's introduction
This novel probably sounds more macabre than it reads: It opens with a disastrous flood and takes place in a small English village beset by a mysterious epidemic of suicides. But once you get past the gruesome knife wounds and floating animal corpses, it's a surprisingly wry and often gentle book. The story circles around several children growing up in a beatific countryside and the turns their lives take during these strange events. Comyns strikes a tone that's between all the expected register ...more
Listing this book on my humor and literary-horror shelves makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Yet as a word of warning, the humor is very dark, satirical at times, with the entire book meeting in the middle between humor and horror.

This is one of my flirt-finds. There is a young woman who works in the local used book store and I have been lucky enough on more than one ooccasion to approach the register when she is busy flirting with a customer. She tells me to pay some miniscule amount and to n
Barbara Comyns is absolutely one of my new favorite writers. Her work is so strange, so precise, so ever-so-slightly gruesome. Reading Comyns is a kind of submersion; like lifting your feet from the lake bottom and drifting; like closing your eyes against a grey sky as the water rises around you, lifting your hair, filling your ears, slipping overhead until everything around you is blurred and green. A world recognizable--but barely.

This book belongs on the shelf next to "Let's Murder Uncle," "I Capture the Castle," and of course, that famous gem of odd goings on in the British countryside, "Cold Comfort Farm."

However, be aware that Comyns tragicomic little gem is dipped in a blacker hue than any of the previously mentioned books. Originally banned in Ireland for it's singularly bleak vision, "Who was Changed..." begins with a flood, goes on to a mysterious string of violent deaths brought on by good intentions (possibly t
Carolyn DeCarlo
I wish I could have kept reading this book for several weeks, but it's such a quick read I had to work hard to make it last longer than a single afternoon. I read The Vet's Daughter a year ago, and came across this new printing of Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead while browsing the Dorothy catalogue. I love the sweeping gore, and the gleeful way her characters react to tragedy. Thanks to the Dorothy Project, this is also a book that feels good in your hands, the cover has a really nice matte fee ...more
A dreamy-grotesque summertime tale set in a village of England’s West Midlands in the 1880s. The village is afflicted first with a flood and then a terrible epidemic, and through it all the characters--the strange Willoweed family, in particular--float like obsessed apparitions or dangerous sprites, distending the fabric of their community with the momentum of obscure, private agendas.

Comyns’ limpid, fluid narrative voice is a true marvel, covering a tremendous amount of ground--and very quickly
Natalie Hamilton
4.5 stars. Loved this book. Dark, macabre, funny, sad. The Willoweed family, an aristocratic family on the decline, must deal with first a flood, and then a mysterious plague of madness that sweeps through the village. Both the events and their consequences change the family forever. This would have been a single sitting read, but I didn't have the luxury of a couple continuous hours to spare. I think my only real problem with the book was that the ending felt a bit rushed and unsatisfactory aft ...more
I love weird English tales about rural village life. Maybe because it's what I've descended from or maybe because it doesn't exist the way it used to and I have some kind of weird nostalgia for a kind of simplicity that shuns modern conveniences associated with efficiency and cleanliness...

It's funny that this was a banned book. Was it the cat with it's eyeball popped out of the socket or the butcher who sliced his own neck in the shape of a smile or the charred man who crawled from his burning
Eric Lundgren

Wow - a deft, strange, singular, disturbing little book from a midcentury writer who deserves to be much better known. Horrifying sequence of events befalls an idyllic English village, described in language that is lithe and darkly funny, evoking the vertiginous emotions of childhood. Grandma Willoweed is unforgettable. Barbara Comyns is an original, brutally clear writer. I will be reading "The Skin Chairs" and "The Vet's Daughter" soon.
Barbara Comyns has a fine imagination. I enjoyed this book, which was very warm and full of humor and quirks, despite the gruesome deaths.
Helen Kitson
This little gem of a novel does, I suppose, stand the comparisons that have been made with ‘I Capture the Castle’ and ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, but it is uniquely itself just as Barbara Comyns was a writer who was uniquely herself.

The story opens in the early part of the 20th century with a small Warwickshire village experiencing a flood. This, and the small disasters and horrors it occasions, is followed by a further catastrophe when flood is followed by plague: inhabitants of the village suffer fr
Charles Dee Mitchell
The setting is the village of Warickshire around the turn of the century. When the novel opens, there has been a flood. The ground floor of the Willoweed home has filled with water and ducks swim through the windows. For the Willoweed children the house and grounds have become an aquatic playground, although the bloated dead animals strike a melancholy note. Their father finds the flood another ordeal to be endured. For their grandmother, in whose house they live, the flood is an inconvenience t ...more
This is an odd, disquieting, and hard-to-pin down little novel. Comyns manages to make strengths of qualities that are often considered flaws. The tone varies substantially, sometimes within the span of a single page or less. A vein of mildly satirical comedy of manners runs through it, but it also encompasses an eerie streak not far removed from horror. (I was reminded a bit of Robert Aickman, although Comyns is both more naturalistic and more morbid.) The narrative voice flits among the charac ...more
Austen to Zafón
Published in 1954, this is like a cozy English-village novelette gone terribly wrong. Tyrannical, morbid grandma abuses everyone and delights in the deaths and tragedies of others, dad is too self-involved to care about anyone, the kids are left to their own devices. And then people in the village begin going mad and killing themselves one by one. Who will be next? A bit like Cold Comfort Farm, but more lyrically written and not as funny.

The book opens with a flood: "The ducks swam through the
Carla Remy
Morbid Adorable.
Reads like a children's book with a horror plot.
I'm not sure what it means. Is it supposed to be symbolic or not?
I first read this when I was 17. I found the Virago copy in a knock off bin in a mall bookstore. Drawn to the title. It was 1993. This novel was formative for me, I loved it. Probably more than I do now.
dead animals floating over the rose bushes -- a butcher slices open his own throat -- a tyrannical grandmother -- plague -- ominous cows -- fire and murder -- getting in the family way -- swanky new yellow automobiles -- punting up the river -- funerals -- a sleepy english countryside village reveals its dark, bloodstained heart.
I expected this book to be rather more quirky than it turned out to be, and so was somewhat disappointed. It tells of a mildly dysfunctional family, the Willoweeds, who live under the thumb of a tyrannical old granny. Having lost his job, her son, Ebin, has been forced to move in with her. Now a widower, he pays scant attention to his 3 children, Emma, Dennis and Hattie. Strangely enough, the one he likes best is the last one, whom he strongly suspects of not being his biological child, because ...more
I had never heard of this author until a reissued novel (not this one) of hers got a nice review in the Times, and now I want to read everything she's written and start a fan page with blinking animated GIFs. Very droll, weird, dreamy, poetic, British. For fans of Tim Burton, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf.
a classic in the British bizarro genre (as Lucy Ellmann is so admirably continuing) this is a hilarious, hysterical, and ultimately redeeming story of a bucolic Warwickshire village gone mad, or madder than usual.
Ashley Bostrom
Even though this book was written in the 50s, it was only recently brought to my attention. And now I hate knowing it wasn’t always a part of my life. This is the most delightful prose I’ve stumbled across in recent memory, which is hard to believe given how many characters are killed off in this lovely little book. The opening lines had me hooked: The ducks swam through the drawing-room windows. The weight of the water had forced the windows open; so the ducks swam in. Round the room they saile ...more
This is a really weird book so far, y'all.

And it remained a really weird book.

It just was not my kind of narrative style AT ALL. Everything seems to happen TO the characters. None of them has much agency at all.

According to Brian Evenson, who wrote the forward in my edition, "The novel has a progression and a movement forward, though not exactly a plot. Things change, things happen, people make choices, and by the end things are different. Do the characters change and develop? Well maybe. Though
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead is a very odd little book. Emma, Hattie and Dennis live in a small village with their self absorbed father and tyrannical, rather mad Grandmother. The story begins with a flood and then as the waters recede more and more villagers start to run mad and die in bizarre ways. The style of the book alternates between whimsy, macabre and real poignancy - it must have been even more startling to read in the 1930s when it was originally published.
I would definitely recom
Nick Crawford
A wonderfully told story. Try the riveting first few pages, they immediately tell if this work is for you or not. Some rich, poetic imagery, all graced with the lightest simplicity. Comyns hits all of the spots where I dwell--animal, impassivity, nature, violence, amorality, and of course, black comedy. For the latter, I'd say the comedy drifts in and out at random, like all else that's at work here. Her writing's all a sum of these little-great interchanges. Don't come hoping for grandeur, thou ...more
Peter Landau
Tone is not just lost in emails but can be easily passed over in prose, at least for me. Maybe that's why I tend towards writing that follows the VaryView-like toy you used to get in Crackerjack, where the image looks one way from one perspective and another from a different one. I like a sentence that can be deeply moving and absurdly funny at the same time. It took this dull reader a bit of time to realize that's where I was in Barbara Comyns' WHO WAS CHANGED AND WHO WAS DEAD. It's a little En ...more
Mainly a study in how dull and shallow eccentric characters can be. However, lesser characters were developed towards the end of the novel that saved the work from being unfocussed and trivial. They were developed in an understated way that was absent from much of the novel.

An odd novel, but not in an interesting way.
A short take:

What a singular novel! I love Comyns language and the eclectic cast of characters she assembles in her little village. The story unfolds with in a natural manner, even as events take a dark and mortal turn. I have no idea how Comyns arrived at this story, but I am so glad that she did.
The thing I most love about Barbara Comyn’s stories is that she always seems to be writing a dual or parallel narrative. On the one hand, she is a master of realism, with wonderful characterization and great detailing of setting. But on the other hand, there is always – whether it is literal, metaphorical or a misdirection – a vein of the strange, even fantastical to her writing. The most serious, literal events seem mythic or archetypal. You can almost choose your own adventure with Comyns.

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Barbara Comyns Carr was an English author and artist.
More about Barbara Comyns...
The Vet's Daughter Our Spoons Came from Woolworths Sisters By a River The Skin Chairs The Juniper Tree

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“She came to a little wrecked pleasure-steamer, which had become embedded in the mud several summers ago and which no one had bothered to remove. It had been a vulgar, tubby little boat when it used to steam through the water with its handful of holiday-makers, giving shrill whistles at every bend and causing a wash that disturbed the fishermen as they sat peacefully on the banks; but, now it lay sideways in the mud with its gaudy paint all bleached, it was almost beautiful.” 1 likes
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