Saturday, July 28, 2018

All Creatures Great and Small

All Creatures Great and Small
by James Herriot
Recommended Ages: 12+

This semi-fictional memoir recounts the early years of a young veterinarian's career in the Yorkshire Dales during the last 1930s. Almost from the moment Scottish city boy James Herriot, fresh out of veterinary school, arrives in the village of Darrowby, he feels blessed to be there, even while being called out at all hours of the night to treat afflicted cows, pigs and horses. He falls in with a colorful pair of veterinary brothers, notices a pretty farmer's daughter, and gets up to his shoulder in the body cavities of various animals, all (so far) before the introduction of medicines and techniques that really made a world of difference, and yet somehow without losing his pride and passion for the work.

Herriot experiences terrifying moments, hours of paralyzing suspense, incidents ranging from wistfully sad to breathtakingly tragic, and hilarious high jinks. He makes mistakes, gets into scrapes, witnesses the lives of people both admirable and pitiable, and earns the respect of almost everyone around him. He also bears witness to backward superstitions and the all but magical methods of treatment from a discredited, bygone age. And for the enjoyment of readers since a bit before I was born, he tells all of this with an ear for the way people talk, an eye for the scenery (not to mention a nose for the fell-top air), and a sensibility about people that is unsparing of their foibles, least of all his own, while at the same time understanding them with compassion and respect.

I enjoyed this book in the audio-CD format, read by Christopher Timothy, about whom I have only one critical comment: To my American ear, his voice sounded perfectly English, though I gather that the narrator may have had a certain Scottish lilt to his voice. At one point he even uses the word "bonny." Timothy deftly portrayed various other regional accents, including Yorkshire and Irish, so I'm sure it wasn't from a lack of ability that he overlooked the opportunity to entertain me with a touch of Scots. I should probably spare more of my grouchiness, though, for the library-borrowed CD set that unfailingly went all skippy and scratchy just during the most interesting parts.

The real James Herriot, unlike the Herriot depicted in this book, was in fact quite English, and his real name was J. Alfred Wight (1916-95). He wrote loads of books, mainly about animals and many of them in a form of autobiographical fiction about his career as a veterinarian. His most famous books are published in America as a trilogy beginning with this book and continuing with All Things Bright and Beautiful and All Things Wise and Wonderful, though this trilogy was originally six books, published in the U.K. as (deep breath) If Only They Could Talk, It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, Let Sleeping Vets Lie, Vet in Harness, Vets Might Fly and Vet in a Spin . Later, two more books were added to the series, published in both the U.S. and the U.K. as The Lord God Made Them All and Every Living Thing. His animal stories for children include, among other titles, Only One Woof and Oscar, Cat-About-Town.

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