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The Vet's Daughter

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,690 ratings  ·  268 reviews
The Vet's Daughter combines shocking realism with a visionary edge. The vet lives with his bedridden wife and shy daughter Alice in a sinister London suburb. He works constantly, captive to a strange private fury, and treats his family with brutality and contempt. After his wife's death, the vet takes up with a crass, needling woman who tries to refashion Alice in her own ...more
Paperback, 190 pages
Published 1981 by Virago (first published 1959)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  1,690 ratings  ·  268 reviews

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May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: virago
I think Barbara Comyns is something of a neglected genius, her novels are rather odd and this is the second one I have read. The Juniper Tree was based on a fairy tale and wove magic realism into social comment and the macabre.
This novel is written from the point of view of Alice Rowlands, daughter of a Vet living in South London. Her father is brutal and cruel to Alice and her mother. Following her mother’s death he brings a rather brash girlfriend into the house. Alice is effectively a servan
While reading Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, I was struck by the amount of information Barbara Comyns squeezed into that title. With this book, the opposite point could be made — the title gives very little away. Yes, the main character/narrator is the daughter of a vet, but it isn't the fact that her father is a vet that is most significant in the story (though it provides a useful backdrop), rather that he is a brutal domineering parent and that his daughter must find a way to escape his con ...more
Hey, I've got a great idea! Why don't I read this skinny little novel, you know, as a quick summer read, and add it to my cute little shelf that I've endearingly named “a buck and change?”

I mean, it's called The Vet's Daughter, and what could be more adorable or summer-ish than a story coming out of London in the 1950s, of a daughter and her veterinarian father?

Well, let's see. . . let's see. . . what could be more adorable or summer-ish than this pale blue, 133 page novel, with pictures of whim
Jul 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As with the other Comyns books I’ve read, the narration propels me. It reads easily, sometimes with startling insight, as it drives me to where it wants to go. Narrated in the Comyns trademark naïve manner, this book’s Alice (of Wonderland?) seems less naïve and more blunt than Comyns’ other narrators. Perhaps that’s because she is young and sheltered (not in a good way) and the tone fits her circumstances. I question the first-person narration only in relation to the ending, especially with one ...more
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Vets Daughter by Barbara Comyns was published in 1959.

I came across this novel in an interesting article in a women's magazine in the book section. The writer of the article had chosen a popular female author from the 1920s, 1930s and 40s and 50s and recommended a couple of books by each of these authors as fiction worth reading today. I thought it was an interesting idea and picked a novel by each author and The vet's daughter is my first one.

A short book consisting of 133 pages so not too
Jul 06, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the mongoose in the kitchen
Recommended to Mariel by: the parrot in the lavatory
The day was nearly over and it was like most of the days I could remember: all overshadowed by my father and cleaning the cats' cages and the smell of cabbages, escaping gas and my father's scent. There were moments of peace, and sometimes sunlight outside. It was like that all of the time.

Alice's mother sides with the walls, her voice heard when her husband isn't home. Her daughter didn't walk until she was two. The father's dismissive gaze holds her down in his saved disgust. To him she crawls
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a hard time rating this. I think I will have a hard time reviewing it. Let me think of good things to say about the book:
• The New York Review of Books has re-issued this piece of fiction. And I hold their choices in extremely high regard.
• It held my attention throughout.
• The writing was good.
• The book is incredibly dark, but it was only 133 pages.
• The first edition of the book (Heinemann, 1959) has a really cool (descriptive of the theme of the book) illustration on its cover. Graham
Nancy Oakes
After two reads, I still felt this story deeply. It's one of those rare few novels that left me sitting in my chair unable to move for a while, unable to stop thinking, and it followed me on into the rest of my day. While I was completely absorbed in this story, I was even more impressed and carried away because of the writing. I found it to be absolutely brilliant.

All along, Comyns writes so believably, eloquently mixing the mundane with the horrific so that when we get to the point where this
Nate D
Aug 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the clamor of dogs in the surgery
Recommended to Nate D by: the closed rooms at the Burnt House
Perhaps the less said about this the better, as I knew nothing much going into it (besides that Comyns had written Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, and so was obviously amazing), and it really crept over me out of nowhere. In the best ways. Comyns is a fantastic, unique stylist, with a deadpan sense of the macabre and an eye for detail, often very odd and defining ones that inflect her works into really her own territory of realist-grotesque. ...more
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book pumps a person with longing—both abstract and specific. I long for the heath,for tendrils on my rose-pink countenance. I long for mildew in attic rooms. I long to float towards a ceiling. I long to be drawn across a frozen pond by some starry man-hunk (a sort of late-Victorian Ice Castles where the protagonist is blind on the inside. “We forgot about the flowers,” is right!). The details here are superb and the writing style, so much so I should probably give up the ghost. I love how w ...more
Diane Barnes
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No real review because you have to be a fan of Comyns' odd style of narration in order to understand this book, much less enjoy it. I did enjoy it, but heaven help anyone expecting a straightforward tale. Had I not read two other of her earlier books, I probably would have been lost. Comyns is an acquired taste. ...more
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb, novellas, britian
Such an odd little book... I have no idea how to rate it and am sitting here trying to make sense of my indecisiveness. It was definitely well written -- the language sharply detailed and unique to the protagonist. But the story itself?

Alice, the local vet's daughter, recounts a life so bleak and downtrodden that it could easily rival something from Dickens. A brutal father, a mother with spirit and body long ago broken and a home filled with animals suffering various ailments are all described
I love Comyns unreservedly, but this is by far my least favorite of her books I've read. She never shied away from bleakness, but the bleakness is usually leavened by humor and moments of lightheartedness, but unfortunately there is virtually none of either here. It just kind of goes from bleak to bleaker to bleaker still. I think I understand why she's not more widely read: this is her best-known work; people read this, get bummed out, peg her as a bummer author, and then don't bother to read a ...more
J.M. Hushour
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Mrs. Peebles," I asked, "have you ever floated?"
She looked quite annoyed. "Oh no. I wouldn't do a thing like that. I'm not peculiar."

I must've been meant to be a post-Austen 40-something English woman living in the 1920s or 30s since I keep discovering these outstanding British authors like Warner, Taylor, and now, Comyns.
This is a tremendous book, which is weird because it's short and has a distinct succinctness to it that renders what happens in it all the more extraordinary. I won't ruin any
"My! is that the time? I don't want to be here when your father returns. He isn't half put out by your coming home--he said he'd break every bone in your body. Oh, he was only joking--you know what men are."

Precise, claustrophobic, oracular; disturbing, morbid, immersive. Alienation and creepy animal stench everywhere. As much in the unsaid as there is in the understated narrative and voice of Alice Rowlands.

In this book everyone resents each other's happiness, at least at some point. Isn't tha
a fairly devastating bildungsroman set in what? 1920's? uk, in the mean streets of London and out on an island by Isle of Wight. Alice is 17 and living in a home that is truly an abusive and tortuous place, then her mom dies, and things start really going downhill. But then her sort-of-boyfriend gets her a gig out on that island taking care of his rich but very depressive mom. Then THAT mom dies (thanks Comyns!! [all her moms die sin her novels, sheesh]) then the story takes a turn from Dickensi ...more
Emily M
Oct 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb
Well. Barbara Comyns is quite something.

There’s no point summarizing this. It would make no sense and indeed, the book makes very little sense. But who needs sense when there is style, idiosyncrasy and a fair bit of bonkers plot tied to just enough realist emotion, all packed neatly into 120 pages?

I had the NYRB Classics copy and it was further proof of their editors’ excellent taste in resurrecting Comyns, and also their cover designers uncanny knack for finding images that seem entirely rando
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Dark domestic drama here with a compelling narrator in Alice, whose situation just seems to wrench one's heart a bit tighter in a vise with each passing chapter. The odd touch of the supernatural really sets this book apart. I also enjoyed the many animal references, and the stellar cast of minor characters, of which Comyns appears to have had a natural flair for conjuring up. Of the three Comyns novels I've read so far, though, my favorite remains Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. But this one
I originally bought this because I'm slowly working my way through the NYBR Classics list. I'm really torn with this one. Alice had an ethereal quality that the author portrayed perfectly, vividly. On the other hand there were some gaps in the story itself. When I got to the end I couldn't help feeling that I'd missed something along the way. A strange story with a decidedly gothic feel. ...more
Audra (ouija.reads)
Yet another neglected little book that should enjoy a wider readership, this is a story sprung stream-of-consciousness-style from the mind of narrator Alice Rowlands.

A snapshot of a specific time and place, Alice is buffeted along by the whims and desires of those around her. She has no agency, no way to express her own wants and needs. Though she has a rich interior life she shares with the reader, she can only bend to the will of her domineering and oppressive father, his flighty and ill-tempe
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1950s
The Vet’s Daughter tells the story of Alice, the eponymous vet’s daughter, who lives in an unfashionable area of London with her irritable, brusque, cruel father, her timid, suffering mother and a whole menagerie of animals. Following a series of traumatic occurrences in her life, Alice discovers that she has the ability to levitate and things appear to improve for her: she moves to rural Hampshire to act as companion to a frail lady and finally begins to enjoy herself away from the tyranny of h ...more
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: underwear magnates
Shelves: fiction, nyrb

A grim Edwardian fairy tale, gothic horror mixed with magical realism, and a not happy ending. The NYRB blurb writer, as confused as usual, calls the final scene an "appalling triumph."

Kathryn Davis's introduction is pure lazy idiocy.

It was probably a waste of time for me to wonder "why." Why was the vet the way he was? What motivated him? Realistic stories try to answer these questions, fairy tales don't.
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A strange, Gothic novel which I found unexpected, dark and fantastic. A clear and vivid narration by Alice that was totally gripping. I could not stop reading. A very original book with some qualities of a macabre fairy-tale. I loved it!
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up from the library intending to read it later in the week but once I started reading it, I found I couldn't stop. I loved it. ...more
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
5 stars for the ending in particular - which is like something out of Angela Carter
Aug 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-reading
I’ve read The Vet’s Daughter three times, in three different Virago editions, and I’ve loved it every time.

The first time, some years ago, it was a free copy with a magazine. It might seem unlikely today, and I don’t know what happened to that particular copy, but it really did happen, I remember it quite clearly. A free Virago Modern Classic with I forget which magazine!

The second time was when I spotted the original green Virago Modern Classic edition in Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Ro
An unhappy, teenaged-daughter living within the confines of an emotionally abusive father and an almost invalid mother who passes only to leave the daughter to fend for herself in the tortured home, aching to be free. We’ve heard it before: this is not a unique theme. Yet, the magic comes with the presentation of the oft-told tale. Barbara Comyns visits this storyline with her own added edge in the 1958-published novel, “The Veterinarian’s Daughter”.

“The Veterinarian’s Daughter” follows the abo
Andy Weston
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Similar to the excellent Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead, Comyns is in her macabre mood here. Several times the book verges towards horror, not least in the evil behaviour of many of the characters.
Set in the early 1900s in Clapham, this is the story of Alice, the daughter of a cruel, bullying father..
In the brown hall my mother was standing; and she looked at me with her sad eyes half-covered by their heavy kids, but did not speak. She just stood there. Her bones were small and her shoulders
Bart Everson
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: octavia-sf
What an unusual book. It's a sad tale of a young girl with a despicably cruel father in London, some time in the early 20th century. She suffers. That's most of the story right there. There is perhaps one glimmer of hope in her life, but it's snuffed out.

What's striking to me is how utterly banal it all is. The author assiduously avoids valorizing the suffering of the protagonist in any way. She had my sympathy, but she was in no sense heroic.

It was difficult for me to enjoy this narrative, as
Apr 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
like walser is an outsider artist.

(it’s not very helpful to say but: a book you don’t really feel like describing–-but to say (nonchalantly) (or hiss) : “read it” …also a book that you don’t want to analyze overly much. at least not with logic. maybe a different, weirder, more hopeful tool.)

maybe just try the first page?

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NYRB Classics: The Vet's Daughter, by Barbara Comyns 3 61 Jan 05, 2019 10:32AM  
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Barbara Comyns was educated mainly by governesses until she went to art schools in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Her father was a semi-retired managing director of a Midland chemical firm. She was one of six children and they lived in a house on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire. She started writing fiction at the age of ten and her first novel, Sisters by a River, was published in 1947. She ...more

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