Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Juniper Tree

Rate this book
In their idyllic garden, Gertrude and Bernard forge a perfect triangle of friendship with Bella, the scarred mother of an illegitimate child. Then Gertrude conceives the child which has long eluded her, and the spell breaks into foreboding, menace and madness.

192 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Barbara Comyns

11 books212 followers
Barbara Comyns was educated mainly by governesses until she went to art schools in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Her father was a semi-retired managing director of a Midland chemical firm. She was one of six children and they lived in a house on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire. She started writing fiction at the age of ten and her first novel, Sisters by a River, was published in 1947. She also worked in an advertising agency, a typewriting bureau, dealt in old cars and antique furniture, bred poodles, converted and let flats, and exhibited pictures in The London Group. She first married in 1931, to an artist, and for the second time in 1945. With her second husband she lived in Spain for eighteen years.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
249 (27%)
4 stars
436 (47%)
3 stars
191 (20%)
2 stars
36 (3%)
1 star
9 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 154 reviews
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
774 reviews
January 30, 2020
The Juniper Tree is a retelling of the Grimm's fairy tale of the same name. Comyns' version is set in 1980s London, with the Juniper tree located in the garden of a large house in Richmond. That house and garden, and the couple who live there, are well described, and there's a definite fairy tale atmosphere surrounding them. The narrator, on the other hand, seems very rooted in the twentieth century (though it doesn't sound like the eighties to me but perhaps a few decades earlier).

As I read on, I found it difficult to connect the rattling-along account of the narrator's everyday life (she runs a little antique shop while being a single mother to a three-year old) with the otherworldly atmosphere of the house in Richmond which she visits at the weekends. The two stories seemed to belong in different books. This was probably intentional and the author eventually weaves the two narratives tightly together, but by then I was no longer very interested in any of the characters—or in the writing. There are no sentences that made me stop and reread them, no interesting language or creative plotting. Everything is predictable, and I'm beginning to notice a kind of arch tone in Comyns' first person narrators that I find hard to relate to. The final straw for me came in the last section of the book when the author substituted a rational explanation for the most crucial element in the fairy story; I found myself wondering why she'd used the fairy story as a model in the first place. The only positive in this book for me was the little insights it gives into a time in Comyns' own life when she sold antiques.

The Juniper Tree is my fourth Barbara Comyns in a row which may explain why I can't feel enthusiastic about it—though I've often read through the entire oeuvre of an author and not had this experience. I know I should now take a break from her writing but I have two more of her books on my book pile and I feel that if I don't read them now, I never will. So I've moved on to Our Spoons came from Woolworths which has a first person narrator with a very twee voice. I'm hoping she'll grow up a bit before too many more pages go by...
Profile Image for Paul.
1,160 reviews1,920 followers
October 30, 2016
This is one of Barbara Coymns’ later novels. It is based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm of the same name; you know then that this isn’t going to be an easy read. The plot is very similar until about the last quarter of the book. Comyns reinterprets the ending in a more feminist way; to say more about that would give too much away.
Comyns weaves the fairy tale into a normal domestic life in a very subtle way. Bella is estranged from her mother, has a scar on her face courtesy of the idiocy of a previous boyfriend who was very controlling and has a child as a result of a one night stand. The father we never meet, but his ethnic origin comes into play several times in the book at telling moments which act as turning points.
From the first paragraph the fairy tale element is very much to the fore:
“I noticed a beautiful fair woman standing in the courtyard outside her house like a statue, standing there so still. As I drew nearer I saw that her hands were moving. She was paring an apple out there in the snow and as I passed, looking at her out of the sides of my eyes, the knife slipped, and suddenly there was blood on the snow. She turned and went into her house before I could offer to help”
Bella gets to know the woman, Gertrude and her husband Bernard and becomes part of their circle of friends, almost family. The Juniper Tree is in the garden and plays an important role, as do the magpies that nest within. Revolving around the main characters are a whole variety of others creating a tension of nationality, gender and even class all contained in what appears to be a gentle slow-paced story narrated by Bella. Yet there is an almost imperceptible undercurrent which builds. Like the fairy tale it is macabre and disturbing. It is beautifully written and quite unexpectedly good. I’ve had it on my bookshelves for years and I should have read it sooner. It explores the nature of friendship, single parenthood, mental health (and its treatment) and many of the sinister undercurrents of human interactions. It’s all centred around a musty antiques and bric-a-brac shop with lots of cups of tea and walks in the park. Very English, but with a real edge and fairy tale quality.
4.5 stars
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,722 followers
January 14, 2023
Reading this book is like being left alone in a big old house with somebody's grandma and she has led an incredibly tough life but was raised not to complain and she is proud of her cherry furniture and her very fine penmanship but she tends to rattle on nervously about what happened to her as a child, during the war.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,000 reviews436 followers
August 30, 2021
Well, I kept on writing notes to myself after finishing some of the short chapters. Here they are to give you an idea of what I was thinking about.
• I have this horrible feeling that Gertrude is gonna lose her baby.
• I think Gertrude will die in childbirth because of Comyns’ sentence about “if anything happens to me, promise you’ll take care of my baby.”
• Where is this story going?! I thought for while Bernard would marry Bella. Not so sure anymore.
• I don’t get it. 25 more pages to go. What can go wrong?

This mindset of me worrying about what horrible thing is going to happen is because after reading five other works of hers, I am convinced there is not a happy ending to any of Barbara Comyns’ works. She can be macabre. However, I am keen on Barbara Comyns...not sure there is anybody else like her! 😊 What unusual books! 😮🙂 🙃

Comyns was 78 years old or thereabouts when she published this work. As she aged, she didn’t get more mellow with her writing that’s for sure!

Well, and after reading reviews of the book I have only now become aware of what this book was loosely based on – The Juniper Tree by the Brothers Grimm. Oh have mercy….if I were a kid and were told this fairy tale I ‘d be in counseling for the rest of my life!!! If I had known about this tale before reading Comyns’ version, good lord…I would have had a double-dose of dread when reading it! 😮

Oddly enough there was a happy ending in this book

• Fantastic review (very interesting!) and gives the reader a synopsis of The Juniper Tree written by the Brothers Grimm: https://www.newyorker.com/books/secon...
• Another fantastic review.. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/02/bo...
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books768 followers
July 24, 2020
Comyns has a propulsive style. As with her other first-person story I recently read (Our Spoons Came from Woolworths), the narrator tells her story in a naïve fashion. Even when I started wondering what some of the many details had to do with anything, I still felt compelled to keep reading.

The novel is based on a Grimm tale of the same name, so it’s not surprising it contains fairytale elements (even some from other tales): good mothers, bad mothers, stepmothers, stepchildren, a snow “queen,” a benevolent though selfish “king,” a rescuing “prince”. Sometimes I thought of Bluebeard (Angela Carter did it better).

Of course the novel doesn’t follow its origin story exactly, but once the chest in the basement was introduced, I knew what the climax would be. How it would be handled, I hadn’t a clue. Surprisingly, it was almost exactly as the fairy tale. Though told well, it stuck out like a sore thumb and I found it hard to fit within the context of the rest of the story, as if it were a leftover misshapen puzzle piece.

Before the novel’s climax, I thought I knew its cautionary message: Don’t give up your sense of self for love. By the time I got to the end, I wasn’t sure of that any longer.
Profile Image for Ana Cristina Lee.
641 reviews234 followers
February 5, 2022
Esta es una novela muy realista pero con un trasfondo fantástico, ya que está basada en un cuento de los Hermanos Grimm - aviso: no leer el cuento primero, sino después. En su interesante epílogo, Margaret Drabble da más detalles sobre la autora y el significado de la obra. Pero es mejor leerlo al final, porque lo bueno es la intriga, el ambiente que va construyendo la autora, lleno de luz y cotidianidad - y de amor - pero con presagios que auguran una tragedia inevitable. Esta mezcla tan volátil es el mérito y la marca de la Comyns y la realiza con una narrativa muy ágil, que aunque no pasen grandes cosas, entretiene y te da alicientes para continuar leyendo.

La protagonista es Bella Winter, una joven herida, tanto a nivel físico - por una cicatriz en la cara debida a un accidente de coche - como a nivel emocional - por la fría relación con su madre y con su ex-marido. Junto a su hija Tommy intenta encontrar un equilibrio emocional y parece que lo ha conseguido cuando se instala en una pequeña tienda de antigüedades que constituye su vivienda y su negocio. Su felicidad es completa cuando conoce a los Forbes, un matrimonio encantador que las invita a menudo a su lujosa mansión.

La historia se cuece a fuego lento, con muchos detalles cotidianos y vemos cómo Bella se va haciendo imprescindible para los Forbes, y cómo los tiene que ayudar en asuntos prácticos que les desbordan, como la contratación y la gestión del servicio. Esta relación va desarrollando grados de toxicidad y aunque la narración queda sobrecargada con tantas 'nannies' y cocineras como van desfilando, la intriga mantiene el interés hacia la tragedia que se intuye.

En conjunto me ha parecido una autora muy original e interesante, aunque quizá no sea ésta su mejor novela, pero me han quedado ganas de leer más de sus obras.

Profile Image for Laura .
353 reviews125 followers
January 7, 2022
I would say this novel is almost exclusively about the pain of a bad marriage. A woman obtained by a man, lifted from her own life, permitted into his for practical reasons of child-care, and then forgotten, neglected almost obscured when he takes an interest in a new young waif with big eyes, interested in art. Margaret Drabble's intro concentrates on the mother/step-mother; fable/fairy story element - which is certainly the plot but not the theme of this novel.

The paragraph above was intended for an update but somehow transferred to the whole review. I'll let it stand.

This is my first Barbara Comyns - and deserving of the 5 stars. The pace seems to be quite slow throughout with many details and quiet observations, but the slow pace is required to understand all the subtle and manipulative ways in which Bernard works for his needs. His first wife Gertrude has died leaving baby Johnny - and after a series of nannies, Bella is pressured into giving up her own happy existence in her little antique shop in Twickenham and persuaded - let's say pressurised into becoming Bernard Forbes' wife.

But here is the beauty of Comyn's style: this is no harsh feminist rendering of men eternally taking first place; this is a beautifully balanced tale of how it is possible for a bright, independent, thriving young women to be coerced into serving a man's need - a particular type of man. Bernard is no ogre/Beast; he is successful, educated, thoughtful, charming - he woos Bella and delights her with his knowledge and expensive life-style. The honey-moon is to Madrid where they visit the Prado and El Escorial; alongside Bernard's business meetings. He forbids her to visit the famous flea market, which is where Bella's interests lie and instead they spend the day at the Retiro, a lovely park.

Over the course of their marriage, however, Bernard slowly reveals his true colours; there is an incident where he is against Bella receiving an inheritance left to her by a Miss Murray, explaining that it should go to that lady's brother. Slowly, slowly there are more and more incidences of Bernard's appropriation of Bella's time, his disapproval when she wants to store some of her possessions in the basement; but counterbalanced against this is his benevolent attitude towards Bella's illegitimate and 'dark' child Tommy/Marline. Comyn's starkly contrasts Bernard's none racist attitude against the overtly racist and belligerent comments from Bella's mother.

The fable element is something that Margaret Drabble focuses on in her introduction, but it is quite simply the architecture on which the story unfolds. The Grimm's fairy tale, a loose imprint - a bit like the clothes-pegs which hold the washing on the line: The Juniper Tree under which Gertrude sits; the snow-white skin and rosy-cheeks of Johnny, the thieving magpies who are instrumental in precipitating Bella's collapse into madness.

The story also pins on all the positive and supportive relationships Bella has with other women, her friend Mary Meadows, the various nannies hired to take care of Johnny, Miss Rose from the Gallery, etc and how finally the difficult and estranged relationship with her mother is resolved with a very satisfying conclusion.

Yes - this is a forceful feminist text told in the most delicate and delightful way. It was Comyn's last book, which she wrote in her seventies; first published in 1985.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,920 reviews719 followers
June 7, 2019
How deceptively simple it all seems, but of course it's not - - and therein lies the secret of this book.

Following in my reading footsteps after Comyns' Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, and her The Vet's Daughter, The Juniper Tree is just as good and just as dark in the telling. The thing about Comyns' novels is that she writes very matter of factly, but before you realize it, something has gone awry in the worlds she's created and you are locked in for the duration to see how things work out, or for that matter, if they will work out. It's almost as if she lulls you into some sort of complacency or false sense of security before dropping the rug out from underneath, so you never really know exactly what to expect. She pulls this off so brilliantly with her words and her style, her incredible knack of using every-day objects to mirror what is happening around the people in her books, and above all her characters. Frankly, I haven't found anyone who writes quite in the same way.

The title comes from a story of the same name by the Brothers Grimm, which is probably the most grim story they ever wrote. No cutesy at all there, no Disney-style sweetness and light, and definitely not a tale you want to read to your small children to send them off to dreamland because it is the stuff of nightmares. It would be good to at least read the original story before starting with this one and keep it in mind while reading to see exactly what Comyns has done with it.

The story follows Bella Winter, single mom with a biracial daughter named Marline. Bella's childhood was made miserable by her mother, from whom she is now estranged and who has no idea that Marline even exists. As the story opens, Bella is homeless and needs a job. Her face had been disfigured in a car accident making her self conscious because of her scar, but like many other Comyns female characters, she thinks only about moving on and doing the best she can for herself and Marline. Eventually she settles into a life that pleases her, running a small antiques shop; she also meets Bernard and Gertrude Forbes. Bella and Marline become frequent guests at the Forbes' lovely home with its beautiful garden, where Gertrude, Bella and Marline spend a great deal of time under the juniper tree. As time progresses, Gertrude finally conceives a much longed-for child ... and to say more would be to spoil. Trust me, you do NOT want to know what's going to happen ahead of time.

In The Juniper Tree Comyns brings out a number of issues still pertinent some thirty years later, but what really stuck out for me was in the way which she reveals how easily people inflict damage on each other. It is a brilliant book, one I have no hesitation at all recommending.
Profile Image for Josh.
291 reviews148 followers
August 1, 2021
This is the fourth Comyns book I've read, and I still don't completely understand why I'm compelled to continue reading her books.

Perhaps it's the wow factor.
Perhaps it's that I know at any certain point things will get weird, sometimes very weird. And that weirdness becomes normal, at least to the narrator.

Outside of Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, which I gave a 4-star, I wouldn't necessarily recommend any of her books. Probably because I don't know many people that are as weird as I am or that find random shocking tragedies interesting in fiction books they read.

At times, I was thinking the themes of this made me think of The Sound of Music mixed with The Birds mixed with something supernatural; a Fraulein Maria/Tippi Hedren reference if you will. To you millennials out there, that's classic greatness!

I know this is a direct re-telling of the Grimm's Fairy Tale of the same name, but anyone could read this without knowing the relation.

If you've never read her, don't start here. You'll be better equipped to start with the book I mentioned up there.

The Skin Chairs. Yes, she has a book called The Skin Chairs. Looks like I'll have to read that next.
Profile Image for J.M. Hushour.
Author 6 books195 followers
September 19, 2021
I swear I must've been meant to be a mid-20th century female British author because I just can't get enough of them: Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and now the terrifically evil Barbara Comyns whose every penned sentence seems to drip with darkness.
Based on the fairy tale of the same name, Tree is about scarred (literally and figuratively) single mother Bella Winter who runs a little antique shop in Richmond, living there with her daughter Tommy. Bella and Tommy befriend the elusive, illusory Gertrude Forbes and her husband Bernard and really just-about-fucking-everything starts spinning into madness from the get-go. Thing is, because it's Comyns, you won't be aware of it. You'll read on and on, thinking this the happy-go-lucky story of young friends from different backgrounds beginning families and making their way in the world. But you'll start to feel it just a few chapters in--that nagging feeling that something, anything is about to go desperately wrong.
And it does.
Profile Image for Nate D.
1,578 reviews982 followers
November 8, 2015
Like her spectacular hit The Vet's Daughter, Comyns here takes a kind of social realist approach steadily stylized by the fairy tale structure running beneath it. Having been written some quarter century later it's actually rather less bleak, softer and gentler in many ways despite some of the harsher realities underpinning it. And also, being some quarter century later and set in that present rather than in the interwar past like her older novels, Comyns' concerns here are quite different -- in addition to more familiar feminist subtexts, this dances around various issues of racism and immigration in England, which she rather optimistically seems to see as dying out with the older generation, the inhabitants of past Comyns novels who would have been scandalized by its single mother (and white with a half-black child!) protagonist, a sympathetic avatar of the changing times.
Profile Image for Kirsty.
2,680 reviews177 followers
July 18, 2018
The Juniper Tree has been adapted from the Brothers Grimm fairy story of the same name of which, author Barbara Comyns writes, 'is far too macabre for adult reading'. The novel, which was first published in 1985, was Comyns' first novel for eighteen years. It has been deemed 'very cunningly continued indeed... [it] could hardly be more satisfactorily accomplished' by the Times Literary Supplement.

Before launching into my review, I have chosen to include the original rhyme from the Brothers Grimm story to give one a feel for the darkness of the tale:

"My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marlinchen,
Gathered together my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird I am."

'The Juniper Tree' is one of my favourite fairytales, and whilst I enjoy reading retellings of such familiar stories, I find that they can often be quite predictable in places. Not so here. Protagonist Bella Winter, single mother to an illegitimate young girl named Marline, is soon woven into the story of German woman Gertrude Forbes. Bella's first glimpse of Gertrude is 'at once fairytale and sinister, and so the pattern is set for their future friendship... As the snows thaw and different configurations emerge, so Bella, Gertrude and her husband Bernard take on the roles of a macabre, magical story which will conclude on the other side of madness.'

The novel opens with Bella's lilting voice, and begins to set the recurring contrasts of beauty and darkness which can be found throughout the novel: 'Quite soon after I left Richmond Station I turned into a quiet street where the snow was almost undisturbed and, climbing higher, I came to a road that appeared to be deserted. Then I noticed a beautiful fair woman standing in the courtyard outside her house like a statue, standing there so still. As I drew nearer I saw that her hands were moving. She was paring an apple out there in the snow and as I passed, looking at her out of the sides of my eyes, the knife slipped, and suddenly there was blood on the snow.'

When Bella, who is looking for work and a fresh start, finds a position in an antiques shop in Twickenham, she becomes friendly with Gertrude, whom she soon discovers is the woman she viewed in the snow. In one of the most obvious echoes of the original story, Gertrude begins to call Bella's daughter Marlinchen. A while later, after a firm but quite unusual friendship has been formed, 'Gertrude conceives the child which has long eluded her, and the spell breaks into foreboding, menace and madness.'

This menace, and sense that something is not quite right, is captured perfectly. Just before Gertrude gives birth, the following occurs: 'We had our last picnic under the juniper tree, Gertrude ignoring the food I'd arranged on the table but almost greedily gulping down the last of the juniper berries that grew on the shady side of the tree - the berries so blue and poisonous-looking, and smelling strange too. I'd seen her do this before; but this time she was snatching at the fruit with her long white hands and putting several in her mouth at once, and her lips became stained and her dress all spattered with the needle-leaves.' Comyns also writes wonderfully about the nature of change, not just in regard to Gertrude's body in pregnancy, but in the natural world too.

To those who have read any of Comyns' work in the past, it goes without saying that she writes wonderfully. An immediate feel is given for the characters, and the story has been vividly transposed to its English setting of the 1980s. Comyns' retelling is haunting, particularly as it reaches its climax. The voice here, whilst manifested through the character of Bella, is distinctively Comyns' own.

There are twists here which it would be unfair to reveal; this is a novel far better digested with no preconceptions or foreknowledge of Comyns' adaptations. The Juniper Tree is a highly accomplished standalone novel, but knowledge of the original fairytale seems necessary in order to better appreciate Comyns' clever interpretation. One can pinpoint what might happen at times if familiar with the original, but there are still some surprises along the way. Dark and beguiling, The Juniper Tree is a masterful novel which I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Sub_zero.
698 reviews278 followers
March 2, 2022
«Encontraron a las urracas picoteando la cadena de oro justo bajo el enebro, y las aves alzaron el vuelo, espantadas, antes de lanzarse en picado contra mí. Fue entonces cuando caí al suelo, entre contorsiones y gemidos, no aplastada por una piedra, sino por mi pobre mente trastornada».

El enebro, publicado originalmente en 1985, es un curioso retelling de uno de los cuentos más populares —y ciertamente macabros— de los hermanos Grimm. Sin embargo, la malvada madrastra de la historia original es sustituida en la versión de Barbara Comyns (Warwickshire, 1907) por una afable madre soltera que llega a la británica localidad de Richmond tras escapar de un pasado trágico. Acompañada de su hija Marline —fruto de una relación con un inmigrante al que conoció en una fiesta—, Bella Winter encontrará allí trabajo como dependienta en una tienda de antigüedades. Poco después conocerá a los Forbes, un matrimonio que la acogerá amistosamente en su concurrido círculo doméstico. Cuando Gertrude, la esposa, se queda embarazada de manera inesperada, Bella se va implicando cada vez más en las cuitas del núcleo familiar hasta que una terrible desgracia zarandea el hogar de los Forbes con dramáticas e imprevisibles consecuencias.

RESEÑA COMPLETA: https://generacionreader.blogspot.com...
Profile Image for Roberto.
Author 2 books96 followers
August 20, 2013
From the very first paragraph where the woman cuts herself peeling an apple and her blood gets in the snow you know this is going to be a bit unsettling, quaint and charming for sure but with that underlying unease and violence. Barbara Comyns writes beautifully - lovely clean sentences with these little unexpected, uncanny touches that make you think 'fuck yeah comyns' ('Mary took off her soiled white raincoat, which reminded me of a dirty candle, and we sat together in the back room drinking tea.')

The Juniper Tree is a sad little tale, a fable, the mundane and the dreamlike both together, with some real horror too, but i also found it quite comforting, with that bedtime story thing which feels like someone stroking your hair and calling you mama's pretty boy.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,550 reviews473 followers
April 14, 2019
The Juniper Tree” is a Brothers Grimm story that is at once both unremembered and remembered. Many people think they don’t know, but when you tell them the plot, they go, “oh yeah”. It is also a rather bloody piece of work. (Not as bloody as their story about playing pig slaughter). Barbara Comyns reinvents the tale from an almost feminist perspective. She might not be as rich in language as Angela Carter, but despite its short length the book is far deeper than it first appears.

On one level, it is the story of Bella who is mother to an out of wedlock child at a time when that mattered more than it does now, and said child is mixed race. Bella has also been scarred in an automobile accident, caused by her boyfriend who comes across as a douche on so many levels. Bella has moved and finally found a job. She makes new friends- Gertrude and Bernard who are better off and take it upon themselves to improve Bella and her life.

Things get a bit complicated when Gertrude becomes pregnant, finally after years of trying.

On one hand, the book is about a woman’s place, or to be more exact what a woman’s place should be according to the men around her. This isn’t just true of Bella, but also have her mother and Gertrude as well. It appears to be somewhat less true of two women friends that Bella has, but it should be noted that these women are not married.

On the other hand, the story is a Grimms’s’ tale transplanted to an English countryside that reminds one a bit of Christie. It is very English with an important shift at the end.

Yet again, the book also reminds me of The Yellow Wallpaper or any of those books where women are lock in the attic.
Profile Image for Eileen.
323 reviews70 followers
August 12, 2016
I never really know what to make of Barbara Comyns or what to write about her books after the fact. This isn't traditionally plotted (or maybe I should say "plot-driven", but both work), and I think a lot of people would be very frustrated with it because of that. It provokes a "that was strange" as much as anything else. And yet. There is a lot going on here, psychologically for the protagonist Bella and interpersonally between all the characters of different classes, races, genders, nationalities. The role of the servants in the story--all of whom fall in some way into that "other" category--resembles but doesn't quite parallel Bella's relationship with the two other main characters, Gertrude and Bernard. There is always a sense of something being off, of the balance of power being skewed. Unsettling, unsettling, and unsettling.
Profile Image for Jen.
16 reviews3 followers
January 21, 2013
This book choked me with a grief that built slowly, abstractly. As soon as I turned my head in its direction, it was gone. Until that moment I was pacing around my little apartment at 1:00 a.m. and found I couldn't breathe. Barbara Comyns is an excellent writer.
Profile Image for Maral.
221 reviews40 followers
December 2, 2021
Desde el primer minuto que empiezo la lectura de este libro, que muy posiblemente no hubiera leído de no haber salido escogido en en club de lectura, tengo la sensación de estar leyendo un cuento. Es decir, se que lo que me está contando no es real, no puede ser real tiene que ser una fábula pero al mismo tiempo me lo creo todo. No me resulta coherente, sobre todo en el último tercio del libro, el tono narrativo con los hechos que cuenta, le falta intensidad, carece de emociones, no hay altos y bajos, es un tono narrativo neutro. Eso me sorprende, porque creo que esa es la intención del libro, justamente lo que parece un defecto es una de sus muchas perfecciones. No voy a hablar del epílogo aquí porque para eso está al final del libro por lo que también voy a evitar hablar del cuento de los Grim. Voy a hablar de lo que yo he visto, y es una historia de una madre de una niña mulata, hija de una madre un tanto despótica ( que motivos personales tenía la mujer y quedan revelados en la historia), amiga de una futura madre que marcará su vida para siempre...

También hay una relación tóxica, una relación de esas que te van llevando a su terreno sin que sepas muy bien como has llegado a aceptar ciertas cosas hasta que al final es demasiado tarde para dar marcha atrás y solo hay un posible final. (Aunque es en ese final donde yo empiezo a pensar que el libro que leo es el libro de lo absurdo y que no puede ser verdad de ningún modo ni siquiera siendo ficción lo que me está contando la autora, y es en esa parte donde eres consciente realmente de la fábula)

Hay mucho mundo de la Comyns en este libro. Hay mucho de la España en la que vivió y de la gente que conoció, y mucho de ese mundo de las antigüedades y todo lo que lo rodea... Si bien es el primer libro de esta mujer no creo que sea el último.
Profile Image for J..
455 reviews180 followers
October 30, 2016
Q: Macabre is macabre because there is a horrible witch casting spells right in your face ?
A: No.
Barbara Comyns' tale of the macabre goes confidently in the opposite direction, lulling the reader, in this nicely poignant story of an 80s London single mother and her child. The gradually-more-sleepwalking quality begins in the early proceedings and builds throughout the story.

The characters and sense of place in The Juniper Tree are so convincing and plausibly everyday that the reader is kept unaware until the very last chapters that anything drastic will, or even could happen, in this world. But if the reader knows Comyns from prior outings, he or she just knows that something jolting will happen. The sense of malaise and foreboding are more dense and inexplicable in that they can't really be nailed down anywhere. Just yet.

I'm hiding this review under 'spoilers' here but I'm not about to go anywhere near what transpires, since the glacially slow and expert exposition is working toward that end throughout the entire book, and would be too easily diminished by analyzing it here. Best just to say that the disquieting aspects are thickly pervasive, but invisible (even to this reader, and I knew something was on the way from past encounters). Comyns reminds me of a British Shirley Jackson, interested in the macabre not for its own sake, but more for the sorts of people and places where it may occur. And in the warnings, the invisible warnings.

That sleepwalking sensibility is worth noting because it isn't anything too noticeable, and because it resembles so closely the conditions we find in difficult lives; when there is nothing that is outright antagonistic, there seems to be a kind of autopilot that takes over, an unreal ease, a sense of the onslaught somehow blissfully holding off. Comyns spends most of the book navigating the uncertainties of this kind of free-fall. Rather than outright slings and arrows, we have dodged fiascos, narrow escapes, moments of relief.

The bones of this story are lifted from a Brothers Grimm story, also by this name. Which you can find online, here : http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm047.html Although my copy of Comyn's book didn't have it, you can find Margaret Drabble's informative foreword here : https://bookmate.com/reader/z4da4Xdn {takes a bit to load, and don't scroll down too quickly; the site will only let you read the foreword and then it requires registration or something}.

This is highly recommended, reads like a dream in some darkening silver cloud, and is much closer to five stars than four. It really does seem there is nothing that really compares to Barbara Comyns.
A very intriguing biographical note arises in that The Juniper Tree came after a long hiatus from publishing for Comyns; as noted by Drabble in her foreword, that gap seems to have coincided with a scandal in Britain regarding her husband. Richard Strettell Comyns Carr was embroiled in the 'Third Man' double agent scandal surrounding Kim Philby and MI6, and the Comyns Carrs relocation to Spain for much of that period looks like it syncs up... another little literary rabbit hole for the enthusiast.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Caro.
254 reviews29 followers
November 16, 2021
El enebro es la recreación de un macabro cuento de los hermanos Grimm, tiene todos los tópicos de los cuentos, madrastra, matrimonio de conveniencia, envidia de los hijos que ambos aportan al matrimonio, hombres egoístas, mujeres sumisas que cuando se ven en problemas recurren a lo más típico y tópico: se vuelven locas, intentos de desaparecer y cero arrepentimiento.
Me ha gustado hasta la mitad más o menos, a partir de ahí ha dejado de interesarme y solo tenía ganas de terminar, cosa que ya ha sucedido.
Tampoco me ha gustado ese final feliz, Bella sale sin rasguño de la tragedia e incluso llega, según da a entender, a un matrimonio feliz, reconciliada con su madre y con un nuevo hijo en espera. A pesar del egoísmo que muestran los hombres, su marido se porta como un caballero, cierto que se aleja de ella, pero no sabemos los sentimientos que tiene hacia su esposa despues de la desgracia que ocurre, la ayuda económicamente mantiene contacto regular epistolar pero no vuelven a verse, algo lógico ya que el sufrimiento de esa tragedia le afecta enormemente.
El que planee durante toda la novela la figura de la primera esposa de Bernard me ha recordado a Rebeca, aunque esta mujer, Gertrude, sea su antítesis, bella, cariñosa, empática, cercana ni tampoco hay una señora Danvers que amargue la vida a la segunda esposa.
Profile Image for Carla Remy.
820 reviews50 followers
December 14, 2019
From 1985
This is a retelling of a fairy or folk tale. So before I read it I looked in a fairy tale book I have, and got to know the original the Juniper Tree. It's one of the dark and violent stories, the action centering around beheading and cannibalism. This Barbara Comyns novel is indeed beautifully written, with the charming creepiness of her Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954), which I love. But this, though good in many ways, is plotless and suspenseless. It takes a long time for anything to happen, and is focused on domestic servants, maids and nurses. Things do finally happen, but there is no cannibalism.
Profile Image for Molinos.
313 reviews399 followers
July 5, 2019
Si hay una colección a la que hay que ser fiel es a la de Rara Avis de Alba Editorial. Todo lo que publican es estupendo y las ediciones son chulísimas. El último que he leído es El enebro de Barbara Comyns (traducción de Miguel Ros González), vieja conocida de este blog porque aquí ya he comentado Y las cucharillas fueron de Woolworths y La hija del veterinario. Barbara Comyns es un personaje increíble por lo que escribe y por su vida. Escribió El enebro con más de setenta años y es, aunque yo no lo sabía, una reinterpretación de un cuento de los hermanos Grimm.

Como los buenos cuentos, cuesta anclarlo en una época concreta, podría ser 1920, 1890 o lo que es 1980. Comyns vivió en España más de quince años cuando se marchó de Inglaterra por la amistad de su segundo marido con Phil Kilpy el famoso espía británico y la presencia de nuestros país en este cuento es sorprendente: Tapies, camareros españoles, aupair españolas, El quijote, la comida, viajes a Madrid, a Toledo, al Escorial, El Prado.

Es una historia redonda desde su primera página hasta la última. Todo resulta inquietante y familiar, extraño y cotidiano, real e imaginario. No tienen nada que ver pero en la creación de ese ambiente incómodo pero reconocible y en la descripción de personajes me ha recordado a Shirley Jackson y su Siempre hemos vivido en el castillo.

«Pero lo perfecto eran las noches; o casi perfecto: Bernard tenía ciertas reservas hasta en la cama, y siempre fue así en nuestra relación. Yo nunca debía ser quien diese el primer paso; podía responder a su pasión, pero nunca tomar la iniciativa. Ero era lo que él quería, y para mí todo lo que él quisiera era perfecto. El mero hecho de estar con él representaba la felicidad pura. Cuando salimos de nuestra habitación de hotel por última vez, le dije:

-Bernard, cuánto me odiaría el Movimiento de Liberación Femenina si supieran lo que siento por ti».
Profile Image for Adam.
663 reviews
March 7, 2010
Bella Winter, a young single mother with a scarred face (less disfiguring than she believes), begins her life a second time by taking on the job of running an antiques shop in a strange town. She and her impish, dark-skinned daughter are soon befriended by a well-to-do and very cultured couple who open their lives and their home to Bella and the girl.

Comyns here has written a variation on a Brothers Grimm tale. It begins rather darkly and culminates in tragedy, but the greater part of the book is a touching, naturalistic narrative. Because of the tone and milieu, I will probably always think of this novel as a lesser cousin to Richard Adams's masterly The Girl in a Swing. And there are no major faults to the novel, unless one counts the long middle section (the "it's so difficult finding good help" section) which could have been trimmed by 10 or 20 pages. Comyns remains one of the most interesting post-war British women writers that I've read, but I would recommend The Vet's Daughter over this book as a place to start.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,470 reviews284 followers
November 11, 2019
this is a re-imagining of a brothers grimm fairy tale of the same name. i read this in reverse order & am pleased that i did. i think had i read the brothers grimm version first i would have spent time making comparisons & wondering at the choices Barbara Comyns made. . i was utterly engrossed while reading this reissued nyrb classic. comyn's writing is atmospheric & her troubled narrator is observant in all the right ways. we see her gain agency for the first time while sensing that trouble is lurking. the fairy tale imagery is subtle compared to the wickedness which is absolute. i cannot wait to read more of her work.

Profile Image for Rachel Jones.
176 reviews2 followers
May 12, 2007
Barbara Comyns is very English. And very twisted. I love her writing. Spare but compelling.
Profile Image for Layla Martínez.
Author 44 books694 followers
September 26, 2021
En este libro, Comyns le da una vuelta al relato 'El enebro', recuperado del folklore popular por los hermanos Grimm. El relato original es uno de mis preferidos por lo oscuro y siniestro que es, así que no sabía muy bien qué esperar. Durante la mayor parte del libro no parece que vaya a ser así, parece una historia mucho más luminosa y corriente, ambientada además en un pasado bastante cercano. Sin embargo, a partir de cierto punto te das cuenta de que Comyns ha estado tejiendo todo ese tiempo un laberinto para la protagonista muy poco a poco, y de repente le da un empujón y la tira dentro. Tiene además una lectura feminista muy interesante, pero se desvela sobre todo al final, así que no os hago spoilers.
Profile Image for James Murphy.
982 reviews155 followers
March 17, 2021
Before this novel I'd never heard of the Grimm's fairy tale called The Juniper Tree. When I learned of the fairy tale and realized Barbara Comyns was paralleling it with her novel of Bella Winter and her daughter Marline, my outlook changed. What had up to that time been a light, happy novel turned ominous because I now anticipated some kind of arcane misery outside the control of the characters. My reading was badgered by my dread of encountering it, and it inevitably came.

But I mostly enjoyed the novel. Though the victim of some unfortunate breaks while still a young woman, Bella's story opens with her coming into friendships and employment which greatly improve her security and lead her into contentment. Her story is one of overcoming the consequences of youthful bad decisions to begin righting herself before sinister elements of the fairy tale impose their havoc and unhappiness.

However, this is a Barbara Comyns story as well as a Grimm's. A few years ago reading the earlier novel Our Spoons Came from Woolworths I learned that events have a way of turning out alright in a Comyns novel. Here, though, the haunting threats and omens building almost imperceptibly in a story closely embracing that of a fairy tale finally cascade into a disaster more difficult to resolve. Bella does eventually come to true romance and security, and she apparently lives happily ever after. But along the way my reading experience resembled one of those golden apples at the heart of the story: pretty and delicious and satisfying except for a small dark bruise.
Profile Image for Ceri Blossom.
24 reviews1 follower
July 10, 2012
Picked this up to re-read on a whim, more or less; had gone up to bed, and forgotten to bring up with me the book I was already reading, and not wishing to traipse all the way downstairs again to fetch that volume, I picked this up from my bedroom bookcase just to see me to sleep (I like to read in bed till I fall asleep). Having read it before, I thought it wouldn't be too much of an intrusion upon the book I was actually *meant* to be reading, and hadn't intended to continue reading it after it'd done its job of keeping me company that first night; and yet...

I'd been a little non-plussed by the novel the first time I'd read it - much of the reading done while stranded at a railway station overnight after a Tanya Donelly gig in London, waiting for the first train home of the morning. I liked it much better on this second reading, perhaps because I'd read two further Barbara Comyns novels in the intervening years, and had become more at ease with her style; perhaps because I'd also read the original Grimm fairy tale during that time; perhaps just because eight years had passed, and the experiences and alterations of those years which I brought to the book on this second meeting had some subtle effect on the way I read it. Perhaps it was just because, this time, I wasn't reading it while sitting on the hard floor of a footbridge between railway platforms! In any case, I was glad I'd held on to it!
Profile Image for Geertje.
693 reviews
May 17, 2020
Barbara Comyns has a very distinct, peculiar way of writing. It is childish at times, and I am pretty sure if she would follow a writing class she'd be chastised for not following the show-don't-tell advice, but it did draw me in.

The Juniper Tree is a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale by the same name. It's advisable to read it before reading this story. I would have liked Comyns to do more with the original fairy tale (the main event of the fairy tale takes place very late into the story, we're talking at least 80% in). I do like the way she engages with gender, class, and race in this novel. It has traces of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca at certain times, as well as The Bell Jar.

Overall I think the best Comyns novel I have read is still The Vet's Daughter, which is also her most well-known one. I think her distinctive, almost childish style worked best for that novel, because the main character was a teenager; it works less well for the young women of The Juniper Tree and Our Spoons Came From Woolsworth.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 154 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.