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February 25, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

COLD COMFORT FARM by Stella Gibbons (Penguin: $9.95; 233 pp.). Written in 1932 as a spoof of popular melodramas, Gibbons' black social comedy has been reissued in conjunction with the upcoming John Schlesinger film. Left in limited circumstances by her parents' death, prim Flora Poste moves to the decaying Sussex farm of her weird cousins, the Starkadders. Presiding over their grubby menage is the redoubtable Ada Doom, who saw "something nasty in the woodshed" as a child, and has clung to the trauma like a life preserver ever since. Although the ending feels pat by modern standards, Gibbons' skewed vision retains its humorous appeal.

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