Last week, as I was rooting around in the library for something interesting to read, a somewhat shabby, dog-eared book caught my eye. I adore such books, especially their slightly old, musty smell. I was thrilled to see that it was James Herriot’s, All Things Bright And Beautiful. It brought back a lot of wonderful memories, of school days, summer afternoons and friends. So I decided to introduce James Herriot to my teenage daughter. She’s also a voracious reader although she prefers all the modern authors and has just finished the Hunger Games series.
Sadly, the book lay untouched at home. I guess todays kids find it difficult to relate to animal stories where the animals are normal and do not have any super powers! I thought I’d just flip through the book for old times sake and picked it up. Oh ! I just couldn’t put it down. The indescribable feeling of sinking down onto a soft bed with the comforter wrapped cosily around. James Herriot was one of my favourite authors but over time he slowly slipped from my mind. This book made me want to find out more about Herriot the person. I unearthed a surprising piece of information, James Herriot was the pen name of James Alfred Wight, a British veterinary surgeon. Contrary to popular opinion, his works are only partially autobiographical. All Things Bright And Beautiful is a combined version of his books Vets Might Fly and Vet In A Spin.
James Herriot’s voice is simple and straight from the heart. His stories, based on his experiences as a vet in rural England, is set in the fictional village of Darrowby. In this book he stays with his wife Helen in a house which he shares with his partner Siegfried and the latter’s brother Tristan. Herriots’s stories are heart warming and he takes us along as he traipses up and down the countryside in all kinds of weather with the sole purpose of treating and healing animals. In the course of these visits we get to see many fantastic characters both human and animal. His description of the countryside is almost lyrical and not something we expect from a veterinarian.
There’re a plethora of characters who flit in and out of chapters. There’re dour farmers who are visibly moved by their animals’ pain. There’re farmers wives who lead hard lives but have a cheerful smile and delicious food for the vet when he visits. The animals too are a force to reckon with. Humour plays quite a prominent role in this book. The first chapter has Herriot freezing away in the dark as an inebriated farmer tries to locate a sick ewe. The single minded determination of the farmer who also tortures the neighbours by singing dreadfully when he’s under the influence had me in splits. In another chapter we meet a grumpy,interfering old lady who’s devastated by the loss of her dog. She does find a new cause to live for and rallies around and it is this spirit which I found throughout the book. People facing the pain of loss, of a dear one, of a way of life or of a means of livelihood and coming out stronger.In todays world we get overwhelmed by our grief, and allow it to consume us. Have we, as individuals become weaker ?
Sorry, took a slight deviation. Back to my favourite vet, there’re a few incidents involving Siegfried and Tristan too which are hilarious. I have to mention my favourite animal, a goat. Herriot was called by the farmer who found that his goat was listless and refusing to eat. After a lot of effort, Herriot finds out the reason. It had eaten the old farmer’s ‘drawers’ ! They had a good laugh over it and I too joined in 🙂 A spoilt pig which has to be cajoled with digestive biscuits, a cantankerous bull, feisty dogs and Boris the cat which hates Herriot because he gave it a worm tablet once, the list is quite long. Suffice to say that I found it difficult to leave them and come back.
Likes – The people, animals, the place and the voice of Herriot which is direct, unapologetic and refreshing. The message of hope which runs through the book and the underlying strength of the characters.
This is a must read. Read it so that you feel good. Read it because you will get to spend time in a world which is unique and which will never come back.