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.
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 to get a bunch. Then the miller drowns himself . . . then the butcher slits his throat . . . and a series of gruesome deaths plagues the villagers. The newspaper asks, ‘Who will be smitten by this fatal madness next?’
Through it all, Comyns’ unique voice weaves a text as wonderful as it is horrible, as beautiful as it is cruel. Originally published in England in 1954, this overlooked small masterpiece is a twisted pandemic tragicomic gem.
‘Everyone should read Barbara Comyns . . . There is no one to beat her when it comes to the uncanny.’ – Rachel Cooke, Guardian
‘Comyns’s world is weird and wonderful. To call her a precursor to Angela Carter is to get as close as possible to an accurate literary comparison, but there’s also something uniquely original about her voice. Tragic, comic and completely bonkers all in one, I’d go as far as to call her something of a neglected genius.’ – Lucy Scholes, Guardian
Comyns’s heroines, and her novels, are plaintive, strange, and robust all at once.’ – TLS
‘The sense of fairytale is never far away in Barbara Comyns. Its childhood power never quite left her.’ – Jane Gardam, The Spectator
‘The strange off-beat talent of Barbara Comyns [whose] innocent eye observes with child-like simplicity the most fantastic or the most ominous occurrence.’ – Graham Greene
‘Quite simply, Comyns writes like no one else.’ – Maggie O’Farrell, author of Hamnet