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The Vet's Daughter

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,143 ratings  ·  181 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, 133 pages
Published April 30th 2003 by NYRB Classics (first published 1959)
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May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
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
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
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
Nancy Oakes
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb, britian, novellas
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
Cristina Leitón
Feb 26, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Llegué a the Vet's Daughter de la mejor manera a la que se puede llegar a un libro: sin saber nada de él y gracias a la recomendación de una librera que adora su trabajo. Y aunque al principio me costó un poco entrar en la dinámica de la novela, rápidamente me acostumbré y pude disfrutar de una narradora muy peculiar que nos introduce en un ambiente tanto oscuro como inocente.

La voz de Alice, una chica de diecisiete años que vive con sus padres en una casa en los suburbios del Londres eduardiano
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
A gothic masterpiece....
"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
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.
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!
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 stars for the ending in particular - which is like something out of Angela Carter
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: virago, 2011, 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
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.
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gotiquillos

El estilo de Comyns es sencillo y cercano, la historia ha sido muy especial. La ambientación magistral.
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
Bart Everson
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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?

May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
This is a difficult one for me to rate. I really do love everything about it. It's a rippling stream of a novel: delicate, descriptive, wry, sad—so sad. I like how Comyns brought the otherworldly into the everyday and it still felt very true. I like the name Alice.

Still, I can't deny that the pacing felt a bit off, somehow. It needed…something. Not quite sure what I mean by that, though...

Anyway, I loved it!

Strange and wonderful and macabre. Alice is a downtrodden Edwardian daughter of a violent, abusive vet ( he sells puppies to a vivisectionist and has a miserable parrot who is picking himself bald). She recounts each weird and awful detail of her life matter-of-factly - “He would have hit me if he hadn’t been holding the mongoose” - and it’s compelling reading. You want it to all turn out well and wonder where it can be going...
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Comyn's unspoiled and original voice makes this dark story unforgettable. A Dickens-like childhood,in perhaps early 20th century, a dreary London suburb, a setting so bleak it had to be based on the author's known experience. The sad life of Alice, the protagonist, keeps the reader entranced--can the trajectory of events become any worse? A page-turner.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"I went away feeling rather silly, and there was my father in the hall. Seeing him unexpectedly like that, I saw him very clearly: he wasn't as large as I'd remembered him, but quite an ordinary size, and his cheeks hung down rather yellow and sad; only his moustache remained as it had always been--black and fierce and pointed."
Eric Orchard
Aug 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: surrealism, fantasy
Unusual and beautifully written. Reminded me a bit of Dickens with a slight supernatural and surrealist element.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
simply stunning. easy to move through; hard to shake.
Rebecca H.
Jan 06, 2015 added it
Shelves: fiction
This book is ... odd.
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NYRB Classics: The Vet's Daughter, by Barbara Comyns 2 25 Nov 16, 2013 04:29PM  
Virago Modern Cla...: The Vet's Daughter - Anyone up for a group read? 6 26 Oct 30, 2012 01:16PM  
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Barbara Comyns Carr 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 ...more
“It was Sunday morning, and old people passed me like sad grey waves on their way to church.” 14 likes
“Now I lay down on this tree and felt a lonely sadness coming over me in waves. Slow tears ran from my eyes and trickled into my ears. I thought, 'I even cry in a humble, common way, with tears flowing into my ears.' But the humble, common tears had relieved me[...]” 7 likes
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