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The Vet's Daughter (Virago Modern Classic) (original 1959; edition 1981)

by Barbara Comyns

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2891238,912 (3.79)108
Member:lauralkeet
Title:The Vet's Daughter (Virago Modern Classic)
Authors:Barbara Comyns
Info:Doubleday (1981), Paperback, 190 pages
Collections:Your library, Virago Modern Classics, British Literature
Rating:***1/2
Tags:english authors, fiction, own, read in 2012, virago, woman authors

Work details

The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns (1959)

  1. 30
    The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski (Swirl3d)
    Swirl3d: Another slim period novel set in London, with a female protagonist, a domestic setting and a sprinkling of the supernatural.
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English (9)  Spanish (3)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Meh. Humorous without enough humor to call it funny, grotesque but not as much as her more powerful [b:Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead|1785957|Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead |Barbara Comyns|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1283885155s/1785957.jpg|1784841], this book is mostly just underwhelming. Start with Who Was Changed, and maybe skip this.

It must be damn hard to market this book, because 3/4 of it is your standard novel of oppression that is frankly, quite boring (the only saving grace of the first hundred pages is really its subtle display of various grotesqueries), and the last 1/4 of it is hardly a "scene of appalling triumph," as NYRB claims it is. The ending is as if Stephen King picked up the first hundred pages of someone else's mediocre novel and decided to finish it himself in thirty pages with no attempt of emotional catharsis or further character development. Comyns has a style that is interesting, but again, it's simply put to better use in Who Was Changed, though beware that Comyns doesn't understand how to finish that novel, either.

(Edit: Although I have to give this novel props for using the same unnamed man in both the opening and the ending, it was a bit uncanny, if not useless.) ( )
  sighedtosleep | Sep 1, 2014 |
From the description:
Harrowing and haunting, like an unexpected cross between Flannery O'Connor and Stephen King, The Vet's Daughter is a story of outraged innocence that culminates in a scene of appalling triumph.

Not just yes, but hell yes.
  cait815 | Apr 1, 2013 |
The Vet's Daughter is Alice Rowland, the 17-year-old daughter of an abusive father and a very unhappy (and abused) mother. Alice tells her own story in stark and simple prose, such as this scene at her mother's deathbed:
As I climbed upstairs I could hear the breathing again, now that everything in the house was still. I went to Mother's room and she was still asleep. Her face was flushed, and her breathing was certainly very loud. Although it seemed cruel, I shook her; but she still stayed asleep and the heavy breathing seemed to come louder. I didn't know if it was a good thing, this heavy-breathing sleep, or if I should send for a doctor although it was so late at night. I even wished Father would come home and tell me what to do. Eventually I left her well propped up with pillows so that she would not suffocate and went to bed. (p. 36)

After her mother's death, Alice lived in fear of her father and even suspected him of having done something to hasten her mother's passing. Her father quickly took up with another woman and ignored Alice. Alice knew her life wasn't "normal" or "happy," but was powerless to change it. Her only escape was an apparent supernatural power, the ability to levitate at will. Was this real, or psychological dissociation? Comyns lets the reader decide.

Barbara Comyns' novels are oddly fascinating, and I never know what to make of them. Her no-frills, unemotional writing style is about as exciting as reading a newspaper, and yet this is still an intense and tragic story. This is my third Comyns novel, and I'd say they are very much an acquired taste. ( )
1 vote lauralkeet | Nov 13, 2012 |
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. ( )
  Kasthu | Apr 1, 2012 |
The Vet's Daughter started out wonderfully, with a Dickens flair to it. Alice Rowlands is the unfortunate daughter of a brutal and bitter man . Her mother, long brutalized and beaten by her father , lies dying in her bed. Alice tried to tend to both her father and her mother. Not far into the novel, Alice's mother dies and Alice suspects that her father has sped along the death of her mother. After her mother dies, her father soon takes up with a trollop named Rosa Fisher. Rosa moves into the family home and is dreadfully jealous and cruel to Alice. Eventually Alice is sent away to be a companion to an elderly woman. There is somewhat of a gothic and frightening aspect to the home in which Alice serves. Events go wrong there too, and so Alice is sent back home to live. In the course of these events, Alice gradually realizes that she has a supernatural power that did not fit the story for me. The ending culminates in Alice using her supernatural powers - or not - it is a challenge to discern. Either way, I did not care for the ending, though it could be taken as a triumph or a tragedy, depending on your point of view. For me, it was a surprising and difficult ending to the story.

3 stars. ( )
  vancouverdeb | Oct 15, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
The Vet’s Daughter combines shocking realism with a visionary edge. ....Harrowing and haunting, like an unexpected cross between Flannery O’Connor and Stephen King, The Vet’s Daughter is a story of outraged innocence that culminates in a scene of appalling triumph.
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Comynsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davis, KathrynForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else.
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Book description
from the cover:
The strange offbeat talent of Miss Comyns and that innocent eye which observes with childlike simplicity the most fantastic or the most ominous occurence, these have never, I think, been more impressively exercised than in THE VET'S DAUGHTER." -- Graham Greene

Alice Rowland's world is Edwardian South London at its most sordid and oppresive. She is the daughter of a veterinarian, a bitter and brutal man subject to fits of rage. In their bizarre household Alice must wait on him and help care for his animals, while at the same time trying to ease the pain of her dying mother, a frail woman worn out by a life of abuse. Alice's forays into gentler neighbourhoods show her a far more pleasant mode of life. However, dreaming only leads her to the discovery that she possesses a fatal, occult power, one which she is too naive to hide. Through the eyes of Alice we watch strange everts unfold - events which lead her, triumphantly dressed as a bride, to Clapham Common and her moment of final ecstasy. The Vet's Daughter is a dark jewel of a novel, at once facinating, terrifying, and poignant.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385271905, Paperback)

In this Freudian fantasy, Alice Rowlands lives with a father glowering 'like a disappointed thunderstorm', a fast-fading mother and a beastly menagerie in a dark house in 1930s Battersea. With her mother's death, life becomes almost intolerable for Alice, whose father treats her as a slave. Then kind 'Blinkers', the vet's assistant, arranges for her to live with his mother in the country. There, Alice revels in the beauty of nature and falls head over heels for Nicholas, the lovely boy who takes her skating, motoring, and smiles at her. But Nicholas has other fish to fry, and Alice is forced to fall back on a talent for rising above her troubles ...Back in London, that talent comes to the attention of her father -- who rapaciously propels Alice towards fame on Clapham Common ...

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:46 -0400)

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