About Barbara Irene Veronica Carr (Bayley)
<The Times, July 31, 1992>
<Barbara Comyns, novelist, died in Shrewsbury on July 14 aged 83. She was born in 1909>.
FOR sheer zaniness and unpredictability which, nevertheless, held a positive appeal, the quaint novels of Barbara Comyns, were among the best in a uniquely feminine field.
Her most successful book was "The Vet's Daughter" (1959), set in the first decade of this century, about an unhappy adolescent girl who finds that she is able to levitate. This combined expert knowledge of adolescent disturbance with a wild but just about coherent plot in a way which suggested that a major novelist had a ppeared on the scene; but Barbara Comyns later work displayed rather less control over its material. However, the lucid quality of her writing was often highly praised, and a book of hers seldom appeared without at least one reviewer being thoroughly knocked over by it. The all too common and not altogether deserved view, though, was one of deep puzzlement.
She was born Barbara Bayley, into a large family, and spent her childhood in rural Warwickshire. Always resourceful, although not always well organised, she studied painting from 1926 and also worked as a commercial artist. During this time she began to write. She married an artist, John Pemberton, by whom she had two children. This marriage collapsed, and throughout the 1930s she earned her living in a variety of ways, even at one time dealing in prize dogs.
It was during the war that she began her first published novel, "Sisters by a River" (1947). For the next twenty years many more novels - and an autobiography, "Out of the Red Into the Blue" (1960) - poured from her pen. Some were set in Spain, where she lived with her second husband Richard Comyns Carr for many years; others were based, albeit loosely, on real events: "Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead" (1954), for example, was based on a real instance of poisoning in France but set in the English countryside. She could as easily write a book with a Cartland-like plot as a serious psychological study, but always her treatment was individual - and often oddly distinctive, if also sometimes a little dotty.
After a long silence Barbara Comyns returned to fiction with "The Juniper Tree" (1985), an engaging book about the world of antique dealing. Barbara Comyns was an extraordinary - and generous - woman who wrote books as extraordinary as she was. At least "The Vet's Daughter" deserves to survive as a classic of minor fiction.