When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex. At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand.
Cold Comfort Farm is a place where everyone's minds have stagnated, their hopes have been eroded by monotony and the tight control of Aunt Ada Doom and all but the faintest of possibility remains for a better life. Day in and day out, season upon season, the family toils in the same way they have since Aunt Ada took control. All because Aunt Ada once saw something nasty in one of the sheds, presumably the woodshed, and has wielded the psychological shock and trauma as a weapon of control ever since. She simply doesn't want her family to up and leave her alone but she can't seem to say this and as the years wear on her attitude and control over her family become heavier and heavier. It is on the farm that Flora Poste, a newly orphaned relative, decides to stay for she likes the idea of being able to impose upon them freely. Once there, though, she see the state of the inhabitants with their emotional problems and the decaying state of the farm and decides to rescue them all and the farm along with them by applying common sense and a splash of sophistication.
It all reads rather like a busy-body housewife entering a dingy house and deciding that it just won't do. There's also a tinge of Mary Poppins' biting wit and headlong drive to fix any problem. Sometimes you cringe for what Flora has to endure and sometimes for those she's trying to fix. She's not a person you'd want about if you were happy with the way things are, as Aunt Ada seems to be at the beginning, but she is one to stir up a much needed whirl-wind of change which makes you appreciate her character at least somewhat. Aside from a distorted dystopian novel this also reads like a reverse comedy of errors and the popular at the time romantic adventure where civilisation and sophistication is spread. Overall, the comedy comes from looking into the fishbowl that is the farm more than by identifying with any of the characters, including Flora, and watching as Flora's actions bring chaos to everyone and everything about her.