Wednesday, November 10, 2010

'The Vet's Daughter'- Review

Publisher: Virago Modern Classics

ISBN: 0-86068-1637

Length: 190 Pages

Opening Line: 'A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else.'


'The Vet's Daughter' by Barbara Comyns is another reading recommendation. A friend saw a review of this novel on another book blog and decided to read it herself. Then, because she enjoyed it, she passed this novel on to me.

'The Vet's Daughter' is set mainly in Edwardian London. The main protagonist is Alice, a girl in her teens who lives with her ailing mother and tyrant of a father, in a house which doubles as her father's veterinary surgery.

When her mother dies, Alice is trapped in an oppressive life. She unloved by her father, ridiculed by his new partner and acts as a slave to both of them.

Then a man arrives at the surgery, whom Alice nicknames Blinkers. He works as a partner in the veterinary surgeon and becomes besotted with Alice. Seeing that she is unhappy, he suggests that she travel to Hampshire, to work as a companion for his mother. Although Alice does not share the same affection for him, as he has for her, Alice decides to use Blinkers as a way of escaping and so, she agrees.

Life in Hampshire is rather dull. However one day, Alice meets Nicholas, a handsome boat builder. Alice then has the dilemma of whether to stick with her loyalties and marry Blinkers or follow her heart and pursue Nicholas.

The story then takes on a supernatural twist. One night, Alice discovers that she is not as ordinary as she first thought.

Most of the time when I finish a novel, I can instantly decide whether I enjoyed it or not. However with 'The Vet's Daughter', my opinion wasn't as clear straight away. In fact even now, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this novel.

It is so unusual, that at times I wasn't sure what this novel was supposed to be. It is both a novel focusing on the oppression of the Edwardian period, but also, it has elements of the supernatural. Therefore whilse reading this novel, I found it difficult to work out.

In my opinion, I think this is a good thing. The reason is because even after reading the novel, I'm still thinking about it and I have also been discussing it with my friend. Most novels I read, think 'I did/didn't enjoy that' and then more on to the next novel. So it is because 'The Vet's Daughter' is so unusual, Comyns has effectively held her audience, even after they have read the last page of her novel. I have only ever come across one other author who is able to do that and that is Guy Burt.

The main element I absolutely loved, was the atmosphere this novel portrayed. It demonstrated both the oppression of the age and also of Alice's life. There was an almost macabre atmosphere running throughout this novel, even when reading happier parts of the story. Even now, I can't quite put my finger on how Barbara Comyns was able to achieve this, but I think it's because the vocabulary is simple, therefore it has more impact than if she had used more complex language. Also the wonderful, dark visual imagery, adds to the atmosphere.

I loved Comyns characterisation. All of the characters are well rounded and I loved the underlying darkness through each character. It is evident that people such as Alice father should be portrayed as menacing, but even Alice, who is supposed to be innocent, is portrayed as imperfect, as she plays with the affections of people like Blinkers. This added interest and realism to the story.

The pace of the novel was good, but the unconventional story and ending, may leave some readers disappointed. However, I found this novel compelling, thought provoking and unlike any other book I've ever read.

I know that I have given 'The Vet's Daughter' a very mixed review, but over all, I really enjoyed reading this novel. In fact, I think that this novel deserves to be read more than once, in order to really appreciate it.

So if you like reading something that dares to be different, particularly if you enjoy watching Tim Burton films, then I would definitely recommend this novel.


  1. Well done1 It is a hard novel to review, in my opinion ... and I agree about Guy Burt's novels leaving you suspended, as it were.

  2. Thanks! I found this the most difficult review to write, but also one of the most interesting books to read!