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

by Barbara Comyns

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3471331,518 (3.78)120
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 (11)  Spanish (2)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
This is an odd little book that I loved. It's about Alice, the 17 year old daughter of a mean, abusive, drunk veterinarian. At the beginning of the book her mother is dying. There are odd animals all over the house, adding to the dark and weird vibe in the house. After her death her father takes up with a woman of loose morals and questionable merit. She moves into the house, relegating Alice to an even lower and more precarious position in her father's house. Fortunately (???), Alice meets a veterinary assistant working with her father, who takes and interest in her and seems to want to marry her. He arranges a way for her to get out of the house by going to be a companion for his solitary and deranged mother.

On top of all of this, Alice seems to have some special powers to make herself levitate. At first, of course, the reader will assume this is just a dream she is having, but later in the book it becomes clear that this is actually happening. This power has major consequences for Alice and those around her.

I thought this book was extremely clever and well written. I'd like to read more of Comyns's work if it's all as odd and interesting as this was. ( )
  japaul22 | May 29, 2016 |
Such an odd story. I quite liked it. Alice has no agency. she is a domestic prisoner of her father, the vet of the title, and she believes her only avenue of escape is marriage. One night, she levitates from her bed and when her father discovers this, he exploits her. The final carnival like scene ends abruptly in tragedy. ( )
  jconnell | Dec 24, 2015 |
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.) ( )
  danlai | 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:26 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Alice Rowlands lives with a workaholic father, a fast-fading mother and a beastly menagerie in a dark house in 1930s Battersea. With the death of her mother, life becomes almost intolerable for Alice, whose father treats her as a slave. Then the kind veterinary 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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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