In 2017, Christopher Fowler included Barbara Comyns in The Book of Forgotten Authors, suggesting that her novel The Vet’s Daughter, published in 1959, brought her a moment of fame before she sank into obscurity. But Comyns has never been completely forgotten. The last novel she wrote, The Juniper Tree, was published to excellent reviews in 1985, around which time Virago reissued six of her books in their Modern Classics series. Her reputation flatlined after her death in 1992, but in recent years her work has been steadily picking up new readers, including high-profile writers such as Sarah Waters and Maggie O’Farrell. Now, perhaps, a larger revival is imminent. Four of her novels are being reissued, and not a moment too soon: Comyns is a much underrated author who helped to shape the English novel in the 20th century, not least because she was experimenting with magical realist effects twenty years before Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber was published in 1979.
Born Barbara Bayley in 1907, as a young woman she wanted to become an artist but by the age of twenty-nine she was a single parent in London with two small children to support. Her experience of penury inspired her second novel, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950), and fear