03/09/2010

If only they could talk (by James Herriot)

I first heard of the vet series by James Herriot when the BBC series 'All Creatures Great and Small' was shown on television. Despite not being a huge fan of TV, I found myself drawn to this programme, and watched several episodes. I was delighted to find that it was based on books, and over the years have collected them all.

I recently re-read the first in the series, 'If Only They Could Talk'. Now considered a classic, this was one of the earliest of the semi-autobiographical fiction genre, and also - in my view - one of the best. The opening chapter, a kind of prologue, describes his experience of delivering a calf on a freezing cold snowy night - something which his college text books had not warned him about!

Then the story back-tracks to his informal interview as a newly qualified vet, with the eccentric Siegfried Farnon. It moves seamlessly to his first cases, and covers the first year of his life in Darrowby. There he delivers many more farm animals, is adopted as 'uncle' to the spoilt Pekingese Tricky Woo, and gradually learns to love the Yorkshire Dales.

The book is so well written that even medical procedures that would not normally interest me at all become intriguing and somehow not gory at all. But most of all I enjoyed reading about the relationships the author slowly develops with the local farmers, and also with Siegfried and his younger brother Tristan.

I find myself imagining them looking like the TV vets - and yet they were cast sufficiently well that there's no difficulty reconciling them with the descriptions and conversations.

Definitely recommended. Still in print in the UK; note that in the USA this book is published along with the second in the series, in a volume entitled (like the TV show) 'All Creatures Great and Small'.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 3rd September 2010

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