The Yellow Houses by Stella Gibbons

The Yellow Houses by Stella Gibbons was first published in 2016 by Vintage Classics – posthumously obviously – as the author died in 1989. If you’re expecting another book like the hilarious Cold Comfort Farm you might be disappointed as this one is very different, but I really enjoyed it.

It’s the early 1970s and Wilfred Davis is still bereft after the death of his wife six months previously, but almost worse than that is the behaviour of his teenage daughter Mary who has left home for the bright lights of London, about 70 miles from her family home in Torford, without so much as a cheerio. Mary just wants to find a husband and have three children called Max, Hugh and Cilla, she thinks that London is the place to meet her husband. Wilfred is overcome by sorrow while sitting on a park bench, his sobbing attracts the attention of a man who gives Wilfred a linen handkerchief.

So begins a strange friendship between Wilfred and the man who is called Lafcadio and the two women that he lives with in one of the yellow houses that Wilfred can see from his own home. The yellow house has a strange atmosphere and from conversations between Lafcadio, Miss Dollette and Mrs Cornforth it seems that the three of them might have somehow been sent to help Wilfred – or maybe not Mrs Cornforth, there’s something quite scarily tempting about her. All of Wilfred’s problems clear up and his daughter is soon back in touch with him, it really seems like his life is being orchestrated from on high.

I loved the 1970s, I know we aren’t supposed to but I’ve never been able to understand that, just think of all the great musical artists who came to the fore then, and are still around doing their thing nowadays (apart from Bowie sadly) and this book just oozes 1970s somehow. Yes I DO love flares!

In the book Mary manages to rent a grotty room in a poor part of London – Gospel Oak – an area I don’t recall ever having heard of before, but I was amused to hear on the radio recently that it’s deemed to be a very posh neighbourhood now.

This was one of those books that for me had a song running through it – The Beatles, She’s Leaving Home. It was written by Lennon and McCartney and I believe that they got the idea for the song from reading in the Daily Mirror about a teenager who had run away from home, but that was in 1967.

The Yellow Houses by Stella Gibbons

 The Yellow House cover

When you see the name Stella Gibbons you immediately think of Cold Comfort Farm, well why wouldn’t you? it’s such a hilarious laugh out loud book. But she wrote so many others, it’s a shame that we all automatically judge everything against Cold Comfort, because her other books are well worth reading too.

Apparently when Gibbons died in 1989 she left behind two unpublished books, you can read about it here.

The Yellow Houses is one of them, she wrote it in the 1970s and it’s well worth reading, I really enjoyed it.

Wilfred is a retired local council official and living in Torford, a town about seventy miles from London in East Anglia, and when the story begins he has been a widower for just six months. He really misses Pat his wife but when their only child Mary runs away from home, leaving just a note saying she is going to London, Wilfred is absolutely bereft. Sobbing on a park bench he realises that someone is standing in front of him, offering him a handkerchief – and so begins his relationship with Mr Taverner, an odd chap who manages to make Wilfred feel better about things.

The next morning Wilfred notices that he can see a lovely newly painted yellow house from his window and it turns out that that is where Mr Taverner lives. When Wilfred gets inside the house it’s like everything that he could ever have wanted, it doesn’t say it in the book but from the description you know that it feels heavenly to Wilfred. Everything begins to get better for Wilfred and Mary gets in touch with him. Mary has only ever wanted to get married and have three children and really her reason for going to London is to give her a better chance of finding a husband. She’s only 17 and had still been at school, but she knows her own mind.

This book has quirky characters and a house where strange things happen – is it haunted? There’s also quite a lot of humour, although it isn’t of the laugh out loud variety. I liked the step back into the early 1970s when decimalisation had just been brought in and there were maxi as well as mini skirts and smelly afghan coats.

I gave it a four on Goodreads but I might have given it 3.5 if that had been possible, it’s definitely better than a three though.