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Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating details ·  709 Ratings  ·  124 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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karen
Dec 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: littry-fiction
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
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I recently purchased books from the Dorothy Project, and one of the books was this one. I had never heard of the author or the book. So there it was, on my shelf, and then a character in another book I just finished, Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller, mentions the book in passing. It was a clear sign that I should read this next.

This is a weird and disturbing book (in a good way) - the town seems to take floods, epidemics, and dead animals (and people) in stride. The baker's wife is running arou
...more
Nate D
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Edward
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Introduction

--Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead
Jeff Jackson
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Mariel
May 30, 2013 rated it liked it
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
...more
Lisa
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-women
A perfect little Hallowe'en treat for gruesome children. It reminded me strangely of The Man Who Loved Children; twisted family dynamics are pitched at you and the author moves on, leaving a sickening afterimage to burn into your eyeballs. Dark genius at work in fairy tale land.

Can you say macabre?
Josh
Jul 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
(3.5) An extremely entertaining, weird and funny story about a family that doesn't get along, a tragedy within that same community and what happens in the aftermath of said tragedy. Comyns was a writer with a hugely imaginative mind and this kept me reading without boredom.

Generally, when there is a lot of death and grief I feel a loneliness, a darkness inside. She finds a way to make the act of dying not sad, but a part of the actual entertainment.

Recommended for people who don't take life ser
...more
❀⊱Rory⊰❀
Other reviewers have compared Barbara Comyns to Shirley Jackson, and they're right to do so. Both authors have a way of describing awful situations and people with detached, pinpoint precision.

The Willoweed family, living in a small English village in 1911, ruled by the tyrannical and cruel Grandmother Willoweed, are beset first by flood and then by an epidemic. Who is changed, who is dead and who escapes has nothing to do with who is good and who is bad. I guess the theme of this story is that
...more
Kathryn
Mar 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Stacy
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stylee
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.

Elizabeth
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
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
...more
Adam
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Jennifer
May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lapl
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
...more
Carla Remy
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: vintage-brit-lit
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.
Anna Deen
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
(4.5) Talk about gothic humor! Who isn't dead or probably dying in this novel, and gruesomely at that! However, it is wonderfully surreal, with the innocent and poignant moments of childhood. Comyns has the delightful ability to succinctly get to the point while painting wonderful scenes of this town—you feel as though you are there (which in some scenes is a rather unpleasant feeling). Through a series of surprising twists and turns, Comyns keeps readers on their feet! It's a fun and quick read ...more
Charles Dee Mitchell
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: contemporary-lit
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
Carolyn DeCarlo
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Eric Lundgren
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it

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.
Jimmy
Jul 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Barbara Comyns has a fine imagination. I enjoyed this book, which was very warm and full of humor and quirks, despite the gruesome deaths.
Faiza Sattar
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ylto-2017-read, 2017
★★★★☆ (4/5)

“A paradoxical sense of a world that might want to embrace you lovingly—unless instead it wants to smother you.”

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 sailed quacking their approval; then they sailed out again to explore the wonderful new world that had come in the night

What a curious little book this was. My second read from The Dorothy Project (first being Vertigo by Joanna Walsh
...more
Austen to Zafón
Oct 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own-tp
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
...more
Doug
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
The Literary Chick
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dark, humor, horror
A sweetly horrific nightmare of a tale. And the baby piglet "all pink and dead". Where CAN one find prose like that? Complete with an appalling grandmother a'la a grotesque Shirley Jackson's Mrs. Halloran from The Sundial. Who Was Changed could be a Stefan Kiesbye's Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone, lite. Very lite. Kiesbye's ducks would not be "quacking their approval" as they floated and in the flood, but his hens might commit suicide by dropping falling off their perches into the ...more
Peter Landau
Sep 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Natalie Hamilton
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Grant Hubert
Jan 12, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like little-known classics
The title of this book is what grabbed me. I guess I don't give myself enough credit because I never think that I'll be able to find humor in a book written in the 1950s, let alone when the story itself takes place decades earlier, but I found the sass and comedy to be similar to that of Cousin Violet on Downton Abbey.

it is interesting reading about a town so stricken with death and destruction written in such a blasé tone. Perhaps that's why this book was banned in the town in which the story t
...more
Alan
May 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-fiction
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.
Jed Mayer
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Astonishing, disturbing, darkly comic, this is one of Comyns' best, with a scope that ranges imaginatively and morally well beyond the insular English village it depicts, taking in all of the great themes but with the lightest hand imaginable: there is only one Barbara Comyns, and I am so thankful to have finally discovered her work.
Tuck
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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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“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.” 2 likes
“Afterwards they went down the garden together to pick peas for supper, and to dream their dreams in the summer dusk.” 2 likes
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