If Only They Could Talk
It Shouldn’t Happen To A Vet
Let Sleeping Vets Lie
Vet In Harness
Vets Might Fly
Vets In A Spin
I read the above works by James Herriot for the first time almost twenty years ago, and I’ve reread them countless times since then. It’s hard to find a writer this lovable. As you probably guessed from the titles, James was a veterinary surgeon in the 1930s in Yorkshire, England. His compassion, love and sense of humor are obvious in his writings, both towards his patients as well as their owners. His opening chapter describes his struggle to deliver a calf in the middle of the night, while the farmer has little faith in him, as he is a young, inexperienced vet. The book has countless such anecdotes from angry bulls to delightful kittens and cheeky parrots. One of the most interesting segments is about Tricki Woo, a pampered Pekinese dog belonging to a rich old lady. Equal importance is given to the farmers, their crusty exterior hiding some of the most generous and wonderful people one could meet. And of course there is the love of his life, Helen, but I won’t say more.
Early in the book James joins the veterinary practices of Siegfried, one of the most interesting and entertaining characters you can meet in literature. One can only wish such hilarious and understanding bosses existed in real life too. James was certainly lucky to have one. And even more entertaining is Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan, a fun-loving veterinary student who waltzes in and out of the house and the books, adding more hilarity. But it is not all laughs. There are many moments when this writing can bring tears to your eyes, especially when a beloved animal passes away or has to be put down.
In the last three books James and Siegfried are enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) to serve in WWI. He weaves those tales in and out of the ones of his old life as a vet with mastery. This is a large volume of writing, but it never gets boring because his insight into human and animal nature is profound. These books are so vivid and enriching, they leave you feeling that you lived in his world. James Herriot takes you right into the lives and hearts of the people he knew, and makes you feel as if you know them too.
PS: Sorry for the lousy picture but it's the only one of the edition I own that I could find online.
The New Yorker