Additional Book Information

Series: Dorothy
ISBN: 9780984469314
Pages: 216
Publication Date: November 1, 2010

From Dorothy

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

by Barbara Comyns, introduction by Brian Evenson

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This is the story of the Willoweed family and the English village in which they live. It begins mid-flood, ducks swimming in the drawing-room windows, “quacking their approval” as they sail around the room. “What about my rose beds?” demands Grandmother Willoweed. Her son shouts down her ear-trumpet that the garden is submerged, dead animals everywhere, she will be lucky to get a bunch. Then the miller drowns himself . . . then the butcher slits his throat . . . and a series of gruesome deaths plagues the villagers. The newspaper asks, “Who will be smitten by this fatal madness next?” Through it all, Comyns' unique voice weaves a text as wonderful as it is horrible, as beautiful as it is cruel. Originally published in England in 1954, this “overlooked small masterpiece” is a twisted, tragicomic gem.

Praise

Comyns’ novel is deranged in ways that shouldn’t be disclosed.
—Ben Marcus

Tragic, comic and completely bonkers all in one, I’d go as far as to call her something of a neglected genius.
The Guardian

Comyns’s own witchy way of looking at the world arises from her resourceful craft—her wordsmithery—which like a spell or a charm gives her fiction a unique flavor, and has won her a cult following.
—Marina Warner

Comyns is one of those writers you can barely believe ever goes out of print. Her books are so funny, so exact, so twisted, you imagine their appeal would last for generations. Luckily for us, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, originally published in 1954, has been rescued by the new publishing project Dorothy.
—Jessa Crispin, PBS

An aberrant pastoral as smart as this one could only come from someone with a biography as nutty and wonderful as Comyns’s.
—Nicole Rudick, The Paris Review Daily

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead keeps the reader guessing by freely switching point-of-view characters, flowing in and out of characters’ heads from paragraph to paragraph in a way that makes a small town haunted by mysterious illness feel like one infected organism. . . . Thanks to NYRB and the Dorothy Project, Comyns’ days of being underrated in America are over.
Chicago Tribune

The reason the censors might once have been afraid of this book is the reason we should rejoice in its publication: In Comyns’s lack of moralizing is freedom for the reader, and from that freedom comes change, including an increase in moral complexity, intellectual range, and truest empathy.
—PEN America

The real trippiness of the novel—about an English village struck by a mysterious epidemic—lies not just in its eye-rubbingly bright details, but also in its moral sensibility. Flood, fire, madness descend on Comyns’s characters without any of the usual narratorial handwringing, occasionally accompanied by ducks. Comyns is so matter-of-fact as to be surreal, and irresistible.
—Lorin Stein, The Paris Review Daily