The room had the sickly smell of caged birds and spiteful women…
This is the first novel I have read by Barbara Comyns. I probably would have picked it up just because it was a Virago with a cool cover, but I had also been seeing her name around the blogosphere quite a bit. I thought the title The Skin Chairs sounded creepy but thought that it couldn’t really mean what it sounded like. But indeed it did. Comyns actually wrote about chairs covered in human skin. Granted they don’t play a huge role in the book, but it is creepy nonetheless. Add in animal and child abuse/neglect and the creepy factor really goes up. From the vantage point of 2011 (or 2001, or 1991, or 1981…) much of the abuse and neglect would have been remedied with the appropriate government social services. But in the early 20th century people kind of turned a blind eye. Oddly enough even with the creepiness and sadness The Skin Chairs is mostly a cheerful book about the adult world seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Frances.
Pretty typical English domestic tale. The kind of book Persephone might publish. Recently widowed mother, snooty relatives, reduced circumstances, eccentric neighbors, and with more than a few humorous moments. I quite enjoyed it but I am not sure if this review will benefit from further description. I feel like any plot points I may describe would be too spoilery. The writing is good and there are many likable characters. Even the villains have a heart–with the possible exception of Vanda. She just seems good for nothing and bad for everything.