In this, Comyns second book, Sophia shares the details of her early married life with who the reader assumes is a friend. The events are so tragic that Helen is in tears and when her husband hears the story he promptly arrives at Sophia's home with a sympathetic gift of strawberries. By the second paragraph the reader is whisked back in time to when Sophia and Charles, whom she met on a train the year before, are preparing for a wedding and both only twenty-one. The bride is so naive as to the larger picture that she brings her pet newt, Great Warty, along in her pocket 'as a sort of page'. Both are woefully unprepared for the responsibilities which lie ahead.
'When we got in the church the priest took Charles right away. I thought it was a trick of his mother's at first, but no one seemed surprised. Then I saw him standing with James very stiff and still. They made me sit in a pew with Paul and at I felt a little scared in case they married me to him by mistake.'
I remember reading somewhere that during, shall we say, less carefree eras, couples would marry young so they could have sex. Within no time at all a couple living in penury and starving would have to ask themselves whether the trade off was worth it. With Charles spending his days playing at being a very unsuccessful artist it's Sophia who feels the responsibility of earning enough money and sits as a life model to pay the bills. A few small cheques from her older sister, Ann, or the pawn shop are sometimes needed to bridge the gaps. Though the only time Charles seems to worry about money is when his supply of cigarettes dwindles. Unsurprisingly, in less than three months Sophia is pregnant and without any of the joy most couples share with this news, in fact, Charles is livid. When there isn't enough food to cover three meals a day for two, life will inevitably be more difficult with the needs of a growing baby.
If you haven't read this book I wouldn't blame you for wondering where the charm exists with such a dreary synopsis but spend a few minutes reading Sophia's voice and you will be entranced. In Maggie O'Farrell's introduction she wrote...
'I began to flick through the pages as I walked away from the shop. Just five minutes later, I was so engrossed that I had to stop and sit down on a bench on the Cobb; I didn't make it back to the holiday flat for some time.'
Another part of the appeal is the setting of 1930s Bohemian London...velvet dresses, painted furniture, and flats let for for mere shillings that would be considered a Millionaires' Row these days. Also, Sophia's character grows and matures throughout the book while experiencing many of life's lessons with a matter-of-factness that I found quite admirable. Her voice is so genuine it didn't take much figuring out to realize that many of the descriptions of Sophia's daily life are autobiographical, and therefore, even more heartbreaking. And yet, there is an undeniable sense of optimism that something better has to be just around the corner.
Lucky for me, there is a copy of The Vet's Daughter on my shelves. If star ratings are anything to go by it's even more popular with readers than Our Spoons Came From Woolworths....hard to believe. I was so tempted to go straight from one Comyns book to another but have decided to carry Sophia around with me a little bit longer.