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Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,661 ratings  ·  282 reviews
Marry in haste, repent at leisure. Sophia is twenty-one years old, carries a newt -- Great Warty -- around in her pocket and marries -- in haste -- a young artist called Charles. Swept into bohemian London of the thirties, Sophia is ill-equipped to cope. Poverty, babies (however much loved) and her husband conspire to torment her. Hoping to add some spice to her life, Soph ...more
Paperback, Virago Modern Classics, 223 pages
Published April 21st 1983 by Virago Press Ltd (first published 1950)
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3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,661 ratings  ·  282 reviews


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Fionnuala
On page forty of this novel, the narrator says: This book does not seem to be growing very large although I have got to Chapter Nine. I think this is partly because there isn't any conversation.
I sat up and paid attention when I read that — I'd been skim reading Sophia's prattling narrative up until then. She went on to add:
I could just fill pages like this:
'I'm sure it is true,' said Phyllis.
'I cannot agree with you,' answered Nigel.
'Oh, but I know I am right,' she replied.
'I beg to differ,' sa
...more
Nate D
Mar 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Read entirely aloud over Skype with Maya while we're on different continents. Probably the slightest of Comyns' novels I've come across yet (but it's just her second). Even so, she has such a perfect yet completely unaffected and conversational turn of phrase that she's always a pleasure. Plus:

Social realism -- the precise details of class and place and social atmosphere in depression-era England are spot-on and create a vivid portrait. She crams the pages with perfect particulars. Right down to
...more
Diane Barnes
I love these Virago Modern Classic books. Anytime I see these distinctive green or black spines with beautiful artwork on their covers at book sales, I pick them up without looking at the titles, because I already know how good they'll be. By women authors sometimes long out of print, they are rescued by Virago and brought back into circulation for a new generation. Novels by women, about women, of all ages and walks of life; I haven't read one yet I didn't like.

From a note by the author on the
...more
Debbie Robson
May 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
One of my pet hates (and my followers will know this) is a writer who writes outside their characters sensibilities. For instance, we think we know a character but then the author uses observations, allusions and metaphors beyond that character's thought processes. Thankfully this isn't the case with the very quirky and unconventional Our Spoons Came From Woolworths.

Sophia is a young commercial artist who marries, in haste, an artist called Charles. The novel begins quite simply: "I told Helen m
...more
Sarah
Feb 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was quickly drawn into this strange novel. It is narrated by Sophia in her youthful, passive voice. She meets a man called Charles on a train, they are both carrying artists' portfolios, and they soon decide to marry. We are given an insight into the life of 1930's bohemian London and their personal decline into financial despair and poverty. Sophia and Charles marry in haste and live a chaotic and ungrounded life. It is written in a chatty, conversational way as she describes happy and sad ev ...more
Josh
Apr 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, nyrb
"Things one dreads usually are: it's only the things we look forward to that go all wrong."
"There seemed no point in being good or bad; everything was so dreadful in any case."

At times, sad and pessimistic, and at others, quirky, comical and entertaining, Comyn's 'Spoons' was my introduction to her work. I'm not entirely sure if I appreciated this as much as many have on here due to reading it in small doses on a long flight to and from a very distant location, but as I rated this a '3', I can s
...more
Moonlight Reader
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vintage-women
Published in 1950, Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is told in the first person by Sophia Fairclough, who meets and marries Charles in the beginning of the book. Her winsome, stream of consciousness narrative is misleading - the early part of the book beguiles the reader into thinking that this is a piece of cheery, lively fiction about a young married couple starting their lives. Charles is an artist, with firmly middle class roots; Sophia is parentless, with a couple of rather uncaring siblings ...more
Georgie-who-is-Sarah
Poignant, funny. More people should read and love this.

Sophia plunges into marriage with the man of her dreams, but poverty (emotional and actual) takes its toll. There is a happy ending and a second chance at love, but the emotional heft comes in the painful disintegration of Sophia's first marriage.

What's special about this book (written in 1950) is that Comyns relates all the truly awful things that happen to the naive heroine with a
Brief Encounter style of dry detachment that can, on the o
...more
James Murphy
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the copyright page of Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is the italicized comment "The only things that are true in this story are the wedding and Chapters 10, 11 and 12 and the poverty." Despite the disclaimer I suspect many dimensions of this novel are autobiographical. There are some parallels in Sophia Fairclough's story of a bohemian and artistic life between the wars and that of her creator, Barbara Comyns. I believe the poverty, especially, is real; I think of this as a novel about pover ...more
Mela
Compelling and deeply moving narration.

The story of Sophia, told by herself, was very sad (although she had at the end her HEA). She struggled so hard. And the clash between her naivety and the brutal world of poverty in the thirties of XX in bohemian London was unforgettable.


I was with Sophia with my whole heart. I couldn't put the book down. Her way of storytelling about her life was totally gripping.

Like I read in an introduction to my copy it was an account of a marriage dismantled by povert
...more
Mij Woodward
One of the best reads I've had in a very long time. Added it to my "favorites" bookshelf.

Hard to put this book down. Just wanted to stay in the world that Barbara Comyns took me to, and the woman whose story it was (Sophia).

Wonderful comical moments that made it hard for me to keep my composure when reading this book down at Starbucks.

This should be required reading for any women's studies class about feminist ideas, and what was expected in former times by a lot of men about the women in their
...more
Ape
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england
I absolutely loved this book, and have enjoyed everything by Comyns thus far. I'm just sorry that I've come to the end of the three pack of her books that I bought and I currently don't have anything else by her in the house to read.

Having read little bits about her, it sounds as though this tale is in part inspired by her own life. She sounds like she was a fascinating person. This is the tale of Sophia, and possibly also the tale of why in many cases 20 is too young to be married and having ki
...more
Melissa
This book is narrated by Sophia Fairclough, the main character of the book and deals with her rather difficult life during the 1930’s in London. The language is very simple and straightforward, which is so fitting for Sophia; it’s as if we are reading her diary or sitting and listening to her story over an afternoon cup of tea.

Sophia meets Charles and they instantly fall in love and decide that they want to get married. Even though they are only twenty-one years old and his family does not appro
...more
Beth Bonini
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
At the end of March, I went to a book talk on Virago Modern Classics at the wonderful Daunt Bookshop. Author Maggie O'Farrell championed this particular book and two things that she said about it really stuck with me. First, she said that it had a wonderful sense of place -- the place being London, the bohemian, artsy bit of it, during the Depression of the 1930s. The other thing she emphasised was the voice of the narrator -- distinctive, without any obvious literary influences, like no other. ...more
Snort
May 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm a sucker for the naive, eternally optimistic protagonist in the coming-of-age novel! Sophia walks the tightrope between innocence and worldliness, as she survives through "beastly poverty" and some not very nice men. Whimsical and at times brutal, but never melancholic, this is another book I found myself rationing over the last week. While I was swept away by The Vet's Daughter's strange gothic current, this lesser known gem was more like a delightful babbling brook - but don't look too clo ...more
Pickle Farmer
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this! A hysterical portrait of a bohemian marriage.
Ruth Berent
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, autoras
El fuerte de esta novela es sin duda su protagonista y narradora: una mujer fuerte, sensible y jovial a la que la vida la pone en situaciones muy complicadas.

Tierno a veces, duro muchas más e interesante siempre este libro es una delicia.
Daniela
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20s-to-60s
"Our Spoons Came From Woolworths" is about 21-year-old Sophia who gets married to Charles, a young painter, in the 1930s in London. After only a few weeks of post-marital bliss reality sets in when Sophia gets pregnant and it turns out that Charles is a lazy, ego-centric narcissist who doesn't even dream of getting a job and rather sends his pregnant wife to work so that they can buy milk and bread and pay rent. From then on things don't really get better for the heroine until the very end.

Sophi
...more
Eileen
Dec 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: britlit, virago
While I liked this very much, I think the sense of plotlessness would probably irritate many people. On the other hand, the plotlessness is set up in parallel to the subject matter in a way that looks effortless & spontaneous, so I think it works very well. The only thing that bothered me was the frame of the narrative, which is pat and easy. The whole story is funny and engaging, maybe even an off-kilter brand of charming. The library doesn't have any more Barbara Comyns and I find that unf ...more
Kate
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read
I read about Barbara Comyns and this novel some place and picked it up when NYRB had a sale. Told in the first person, this is the story of Sophia and her life in her 20s, married to a true starving artist Charles. She starves as well, and for a while is miserable as well. Told in brief chapters, the story takes place in interwar England, and Sophia describes her life in minute detail. Far from being boring, it made the book more of a page turner, for despite her poor choices at times, you wind ...more
Ali
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My third read for All Virago/all August and so far I am really enjoying reading my lovely green VMC’s and having the chance to get to grips with authors I know less well, or as in the case of Barbara Comyns – not at all. Like the last book I read – Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane – this novel also seems to divide opinion a bit. I can see why. There is much misery and things do seem relentlessly grim for most of the novel. The blurb on the back cover of my VMC edition promises the reader – “a very ...more
Cleo Bannister
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
A young woman tells her story as a young mother in 1930’s London. The poverty is almost overshadowed by this young woman’s grit and her conversational tone when underplaying with a light touch some equally delightful and heart-wrenching events. I couldn’t help feeling that she would be appalled by the social media age where every day occurrences seem to be blown into a major drama.

Here the part which is used for the title perfectly sums up the style used throughout the novel:

I had hoped they wou
...more
Laura
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I came to this book because Maggie O'Farrell recommends it in an interview as a good one about motherhood and life with young children, not a very common thing to find (of course, you can only find the time to read it if your children are not quite so young anymore). But it is many more things: a Cinderella story, a depiction of the artistic, Bohemian scene in Soho in the thirties, and mostly, that very unusual thing, a funny book about poverty.
I still feel ambivalent about the poverty issue. It
...more
Teri
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017, classic
This is the very strange story of a young 21-year-old Sophia, living in London just after World War II. Life was hard in Europe at the time, it is the middle of a depression and many people were struggling to get by. Sophia meets Charles, who she falls in love with. Against the wishes of his family, Charles marries Sophia in a quiet ceremony. The two lived a very bohemian lifestyle as artists grasping for their next opportunity to paint or model. But times were hard and the two often found thems ...more
Jessica
Jan 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: Emily Books
I loved this novel. Published in 1950, the narrator Sophia is a young artist in London and falls in with a fellow artist; they marry and in doing so, he loses his allowance. She writes in first-person about marriage, poverty, and giving birth. There is a note at the beginning of the novel that most is fiction, but chapters 10-12 are true. Well, those chapters are about giving birth in a pre-war London hospital and they are terrifying. I wanted to hug and hold Sophia so many times while reading. ...more
Liz
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Loved everything about this. The pet fox, the asshole husband, the horrors of giving birth in public hospitals, the never-ending scramble for extra shillings. I read the public hospital passages out loud to my pregnant friend in order to traumatize her.

*****UPDATE: Re-read Sept 21 2017
Was able to pound through this in a day! It really is an enjoyable read. The narrative style is so flat -- sometimes it definitely reads like a monotone list of "things that happened." But that helps make all the g
...more
Leonie
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Barbara Comyns's heroines are rather like Jean Rhys's in their drifting vulnerable passivity, especially to men, and the way in which this vulnerable passivity doesn't crowd out some sharp observation of others. They tend to be more ready and hopeful for things to go well, though. This is the story of Sophia, married very young to a very young self-absorbed artist called Charles. They are both very unready for marriage and housekeeping and children but while Sophia struggles and does her best Ch ...more
Alun Williams
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
When the green Virago Modern Classics first came out I used to buy one regularly - frequently judging them by the picture on the cover. Many struck me as being dull and worthy. This little novel is one of the few of them that I have kept and re-read several times. It is an excellent book to cheer oneself up with: Sophia, the young mother who tells us part of her life story, (mostly set in 1930s Bohemian London), is an endearing, childlike, and rather foolish heroine with a fondness for newts. He ...more
Kathleen
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"This is the end of my book, but not the end of my story, which will go on until I die; but now we have come to such a happy part of my life there is very little to say about it. At first, because I wasn't used to happiness and freedom from worry, I would be terrified that disaster was coming round the corner at any minute. I expected that Rollo would suddenly say he didn't love me any more, or that the house was mortgaged up tot he hilt and we must sell everything we had got and go and live in ...more
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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
“She cleared her throat once or twice, and said something about poor people should eat a lot of herrings, as they were most nutritious, also she had heard poor people eat heaps of sheeps' heads and she went on to ask if I ever cooked them. I said I would rather be dead than cook or eat a sheep's head; I'd seen them in butchers' shops with awful eyes and bits of wool sticking to their skulls. After that helpful hints for the poor were forgotten.” 9 likes
“I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said, 'I won't have any babies' very hard, they most likely wouldn't come.I thought that was what was meant by birth-control, but by this time I knew that idea was quite wrong.” 2 likes
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