The Veterinarian from Hell

The Vet’s Daughter” by Barbara Comyns   (1959) – 133 pages

This year looks like it will be the year of the re-discovery of Barbara Comyns, an English writer who died about 22 years ago.  Interest in Barbara Comyns has been mounting over the past few years, and this year there have been several postings on the blogs regarding her novels, and only two weeks ago, in The Observer Rachel Cooke named “The Vet’s Daughter” one of the 10 Best Neglected Literary Classics.

I had not heard of Barbara Comyns until January of this year, and after reading this odd little novel, all I can say is it is about time Comyns became famous.   This novel is wonderful and horrible at the same time.   The suspense is intense and excruciating.     If you are looking for a comforting sentimental novel about English town life, this is not the novel for you.    

Never has family evil been portrayed with such vivid devastating honesty as when daughter Alice Rowlands talks about her father, the veterinarian.  She implies that he became a veterinarian because he liked torturing animals. After he settles down to family life, he only gets worse.  Imagine a daughter having to worry that her father will kick her in the face and break her teeth the same way he did to his wife, her mother.

“The Vet’s Daughter” does have some respites from horror, times Alice spends with her mother and other good people when her father is not around.  These times away from her father show in contrast how good life could be for Alice.  Alice can appreciate the good side of life in spite of her miserable home life.      

 This novel could have been an incredible horror movie for Alfred Hitchcock, although the art of special effects may not have advanced enough at that point to adequately portray the story.   It would make an excellent movie today. 

 I would describe Barbara Comyns as a primitive.  Graham Greene, in praising her, spoke of her “strange offbeat talent”, her “innocent eye which observes with childlike simplicity the most fantastic or the most ominous circumstances”.  This novel is about as far as you can get from the well-wrought intellectual writing of, say, an A.S. Byatt.   There is room for both kinds of writing. Comyns captures nature and life in this town with an intensity and simplicity that is missing from more intellectual writers. 

Somehow it feels like I’ve spent much of my reading life discovering under-appreciated English woman authors.  Add Barbara Comyns to the list.  “The Vet’s Daughter” is a must-read.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds like a really crazy and intense novel to read. Considering I have a blog about veterinary technicians at http://www.veterinarytechniciansalary.org I am definitely interested in this kind of reading and will have to check it out. Thanks for pointing out some of the details from this book because I might have got myself into a book that I was completely not expecting the outcome.

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    • Hi Kevin Bailey,
      I did not expect any veterinarians stopping by but am happy you did. The veterinarian in the ‘Vet’s Daughter’ could have been any profession. I suppose Barbara Comyns was writing from her own family history. She was rather a ‘primitive’ and that is one of the special things about her writing. Thanks for stopping by!

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