Thursday, 26 November 2009

The skin chairs (Comyns) 224

I was especially excited to be lent The skin chairs by Barbara Comyns by Simon (from Stuck in a book) because Comyns has been one of my great finds of this year and I have hugely enjoyed her other VMCs.

The skin chairs did not disappoint me. It was not as surreal as some of Comyns work, and unlike her early books, it was properly spelt and punctuated, so it turned out to be a really good read. Like some of her other books it gives a wonderful insight into the world of adults.

It tells the story of 10-year-old Frances and her mother and siblings after her father dies and they undergo a huge change in their circumstances. Initially, they are taken in by relations, but then move to a much smaller house and struggle to live on a tiny income without the maids and help that they are accustomed to. Much of the book describes the episodes resulting from their new life.

And what of the skin chairs?

' "Could I see the chairs, please?" . . . "Chairs, chairs. What does the child mean?" . . . Oh, she means the chairs in your hall, the ones your husband had covered with skin. I'm afraid she is a morbid little thing." She giggled and bounced about on her rickety chair'

One of France's neighbours owns a set of chairs which are covered with human skin - one from a white man, and the rest from black men. Frances is absolutely horrified but also fascinated by this, and later brings back a friend to see them. The chairs recurr throughout the book - when the neighbour dies and his house is sold, the contents are also sold to the new owner, Mr Blackwell. The chairs are banished to the loft. France's mother eventually marries Mr Blackwell and Frances moves to the house containing the chairs. She decides to deal with them ad the book closes with her giving the chairs a funeral.

Just the one Virago edition above.


  1. I wondered what skin chairs would refer to and really hoped it wasn't what it sounded like. Comyns really does have her black moments doesn't she? Will look out for this title all the same.

  2. Oooh sounds interesting. I have this on the TBR pile so will get around to it at some point! Haven't read any Comyns yet.

  3. Hayley - yes, it is a bit grim! I wondered too...

    Rachel - Comyns is definitely worth reading, I'm not sure which one I'd start with though. Have you others on hand? They're all reasonably short too :)

  4. You've got me excited about reading this one too! If only there were more Comyns books... I don't want to run out.