Barbara Comyns

Avril Horner


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Manchester University Press
19 March 2024
ISBN: 9781526173744
372 pages

From the publisher

The extraordinary twentieth-century writer Barbara Comyns led a life as captivating as the narratives she spun. This pioneering biography reveals the journey of a woman who experienced hardship and single-motherhood before the age of thirty but went on to publish a sequence of novels that are unique in the English language.

Comyns turned her hand to many jobs in order to survive, from artist's model to restoring pianos. Hundreds of unpublished letters reveal an occasionally desperate but resourceful and witty woman whose complicated life ranged from enduring poverty when young to mixing with spivs, spies and high society. While working as a housekeeper in her mid-thirties, Comyns began transforming the bleak episodes of her life into compelling fictions streaked with surrealism and deadpan humour. The Vet's Daughter (1959), championed by Graham Greene, brought her fame, although her use of the gothic and macabre divided readers and reviewers.

This biography not only excavates Comyns's life but also reclaims her fiction, providing a timely reassessment of her literary contribution. It sheds new light on a remarkable author who deftly captured the complexities of human life.