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The Skin Chairs

4.26  ·  Rating Details ·  108 Ratings  ·  11 Reviews
"'Could I see the chairs, please?'... 'Chairs, chairs. What does the child mean?... Oh, she means the chairs in your hall, the ones your husband had covered with skin. I'm afraid she is a morbid little thing.' She giggled and bounced about on her rickety chair."

Her father dies and the ten-year-old Frances, her mother and assorted siblings are taken under the wing of their
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Paperback, 208 pages
Published December 31st 1985 by Virago (first published 1962)
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Rebecca by Daphne du MaurierMy Antonia by Willa CatherThe House of Mirth by Edith WhartonThe Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins GilmanMrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth  Taylor
Favorite Virago Modern Classics
36th out of 196 books — 131 voters
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Unsuitable parents
4th out of 19 books — 9 voters


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Community Reviews

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Ben Winch
May 15, 2013 Ben Winch rated it really liked it
Shelves: anglo, english
I'm halfway through The Skin Chairs and my trust in Barbara Comyns is near total. I'm not sure I can describe this book, which on the surface is anything but experimental, but I've never read anything like it. I mean, on one level, sure, there's plenty like it. It's the story of growing up in an English village in the early part of the twentieth century, and yes, on the literal level, the back-cover blurb is accurate: it's a 'quirky novel describing the adult world with a young girl's eye'. But ...more
Rod
Aug 23, 2015 Rod rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably my favorite Comyns, right up there with Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. This hits the Comyns sweet spot for me: the young, naive narrator living in an idyllic country town, with a large family who often live beyond their means; prickly relations headed by a domineering female; eccentric, eccentric friends and neighbors; the horrors and traumas of childhood leavened by humor.

I had been in a rather depressing reading slump for a while, having recently moved to a new house, and I didn't
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J.
Such an onslaught of detail, such an incoming rush of sensory effects that it's difficult to know what to call this. A coming-of-age novel where the days stream by but the characters don't change-- a kaleidoscopic novel that keeps mostly to the same setting ... A character study, but one where nothing is revealed, in the unending flow of both triviality and entirety.

Comyns is fascinated by the perspective of adolescence, but in the most adult way possible, a perspective that doesn't shortchange
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Nate D
Sep 15, 2015 Nate D rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: The threat of adulthood
Recommended to Nate D by: Unsettling furniture
Comyns continues to be a pleasure, with so many amazing turns of phrase and strange but perfect juxtapositions between mundane and morbid on every page. It's all a little unsettling, but rings true to the vague menaces and unreliable adults bound to haunt children everywhere. All the same, I feel like this wasn't quite up to the focus and intensity of her earlier novels of the 50s, perhaps trading in creepy fairy-tale specifics for universality. As such, it may take slightly longer to get caught ...more
Daisy
Jan 05, 2015 Daisy rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Daisy by: J.
You read this on tenterhooks; it's a weird mixture of cozy and uncomfortable, with the emphasis on uneasiness. It's got unforgettable characters (Aunt Lawrence, Vanda and Jane, Mrs. Alexander with her gold shoes and other proclivities) who drive the would-be simple story of a young girl from a poor, eccentric family who loves to draw, is kind to animals, and knows her botany.

It surprised me that I was allowed more freedom than Ruby, who was grown up and wore her hair in a sad little bun.
Jed Mayer
May 24, 2016 Jed Mayer rated it it was amazing
I am so grateful to have finally discovered this utterly unique, marvelously strange and insightful writer; though not quite as enticingly sinister as the incomparable "The Vet's Daughter," this is in many ways quite as moving, and abounds in visionary passages that perfectly capture the strangeness of childhood, and the general awfulness of the human race.
Ann-Marie
Sep 19, 2009 Ann-Marie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Not that I've read a lot of Flannery O'Connor, but it occurred to me after finishing this book that Barbara Comyns might have something in common with her. (Kalen, care to comment?) I’ve read a few of Comyns’s books now (all thanks to Kalen), and I liked this one the best of all, perhaps because it was told from a child’s point of view and was a bit more lighthearted, even though there were frightening or sad parts. In all of her novels, her subject seems to be human suffering, and although they ...more
Tyler
Jan 09, 2015 Tyler rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
"The room had the sickly smell of caged birds and spiteful women" - Barbara Comyns pars pro toto.
Paula
May 21, 2012 Paula rated it liked it
A little more grounded in reality than Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, this novel about genteel country folk, told from the point of view of a bewildered young girl who is forced to stay with "horsey relations" after her father dies, has a meandering feel that values eccentric details over plot. I liked it, and plan to read more Barbara Comyns. Yay for weird British authors.
Flora
Sep 11, 2013 Flora rated it really liked it
3.5 stars really but I'm rounding up because it's Barbara Comyns and I love her. Much more 'straight' than her other novels but still tinged with strangeness and the weird obsessions of childhood. "Sisters by a River" and "Who was Changed and who was Dead" have yet to be beaten, however.
Louisa
Aug 16, 2016 Louisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: philly-library
Helen Oyeyemi said: "I like the entire drama of whether the protagonist is going to be OK inside herself."
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014...
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500 Great Books B...: The Skin Chairs - Barbara Comyns - Ben Winch 1 6 Aug 12, 2014 11:50AM  
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Barbara Comyns Carr was educated mainly by governesses until she went to art schools in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Her father was a semi-retired managing director of a Midland chemical firm. She was one of six children and they lived in a house on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire. She started writing fiction at the age of ten and her first novel, Sisters by a River, was published in 1947 ...more
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