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Review: The Vet's Daughter, by Barbara Comyns


Pages: 133
Original date of publication: 1959
My edition: 2003 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011


Barbara Comyns’s novels are hard to explain. They’re very dark and macabre; she writes about very tough subjects with a very detached eye, unemotionally writing about people and the things that happen to them.

The Vet’s Daughter is one of them. The story is told from the point of view of Alice Rowlands, who lives in a London suburb with her abusive father and sick mother. When her mother dies, her father takes up with a bad woman, who attempts to lead Alice down the wrong track, so to speak. Eventually, Alice discovers that she has a secret talent, which eventually leads to what might be her salvation.

As I’ve said, Barbara Comyns’s novels are very unemotional, despite the fact that she writes about tough subjects. What I liked about Alice’s character is that she’s so detached from all the horrible things that happen to her. I think a weaker person would have broken down from the emotional strain, but Alice has an incredible strength of will, despite the fact that she doesn’t seem to have anything to live for. She talks about the things that happen to her as if they’re a matter of course and not unusual.

The characters in the book are wonderfully diverse and Dickensian, right down to Mrs. Peebles and the sinister couple that have been hired to live in her house. I loved the “supernatural” aspect of the novel; it seemed symbolic of Alice’s ability to emotionally detach herself from her surroundings. The Vet’s Daughter is a stunning novel, and going on to my list of best reads for this year.

Comments

StuckInABook said…
I love Comyns so much - you're definitely right about the lack of emotion in her narrative; it's all very matter-of-fact, but she does it brilliantly. My favourite of hers is Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, but this is probably second.

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