Saturday, November 20, 2010

All Creatures Great and Small - James Herriot

I don't think there is anything better than James Herriot when one is sick and in need of some comfort. His books are simply made for late night reading under the yellow glow of a bedside lamp. I admit, I am romanticizing the book a little (I tend to do that a lot), but I can't help it. All Creatures Great and Small made me supremely happy.

It is the late 1930s: The Nuremberg rallies were spewing hatred, the Anschluss had come to Austria and the world was being driven inexorably towards war. But we, along with James Herriot are faraway from it all. Indeed, while reading this book, a part of me could not believe that anything other than the fictional village of Darrowby could have existed in those times.

James Herriot, M.R.C.V.S is fresh out of college when he comes to Darrowby to be interviewed for the position of assistant to Siegfried Farnon who owns the veterinary practice there. He gets taken on and is installed as the newest member of Skeldale House. All Creatures Great and Small, which follows the first two years of Herriot's life as a country vet is a wonderful account peppered with amusing anecdotes and touching experiences all with a wry sense of humour, an ability to laugh at himself and an indefatigable joie de vivre.

The best thing about about this book is that you don't have to be an animal lover to enjoy it. It draws you in until you are a part of the Dales yourself. I had a lovely time reading about the eccentric Siegfried, Tristan, Siegfried's incorrigible brother, the formidable Miss Harbottle, the various Yorkshire farmers in varying degrees of crustiness and all the cows and horses and sows and dogs that Herriot treats.

Some of my favourite stories are the ones about Tricki Woo, the dog, Angus Grier the brooding colleague, Tristan's scrapes, Herriot's courtship of a certain young lady, the various times when Herriot gets called out into the freezing night to look after a calving or a foaling. For me, someone who is extremely squeamish, it was fun to read about the young vet coming in regular contact with animal muck in poorly lit barns and sheds all over the country side. There are bad and frustrating days but there are extremely good ones too and Herriot manages to reinforce that belief with his magical talent of making the ordinary seem quite extraordinary.

No racy book, this but it is one of those quiet ones that are wholesome and full of fun and if you were to indulge yourself in them, you would come away with something rather valuable. As sick as I was while reading this, it was like chicken broth to me :)

In reality, James Herriot, whose real name was James Alfred Wight, practised in Thirsk in the Yorkshire dales. Darrowby is said to have been a composition of three towns and villages: Leyburn, Middleham and Richmond, according to this webpage. I have included a picture of the original Skeldale House in Thirsk. Skeldale House has been turned into an interactive museum. You can check it out here.


Bikerguy said...

a book about pets..what else could you have asked for after bunking office :)

leafonatree said...

This is one of my absolute favorites! I was worried that any animal tragedy would send me over the edge, but Herriot writes in such a way that everything seems ok (and there aren't many sad parts, anyway). I love your review!!

Urbi Chatterjee said...

Herriot's 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' and 'The Lord God Made Them All' were my first books about animals. At first I was a bit reluctant about reading them. I had somehow formed an idea that books about animals would be all about biological terms and scientific names. It took a great deal of coaxing and even some scolding from my father to get me reading. Once I had started, however, my mother found it difficult even to make me take a bath, I was so engrossed in the book! After I finished those two, I was despondent to hear that we did not have the other two books at home. I moved on to other books, but my taste for books about animals was made. Since then I have spent countless hours on books by Gerry Durrell and Konrad Lorenz. Books like 'White Fang' and 'The Call of the Wild' are my all time favourites. At last, a few months ago, I was ecstatic to hear that a friend had got the other two books by Herriot for me. They are still with him, and I'm waiting for him to give them to me. In the mean time, your review made me all the more excited about reading them :)

Veens said...

You know, I have not even heard of this. I am an animal lover, and I should know about them right?

Lovely review, and I hope to get this one sometime soon.

I hope you feel better soon, all that sniffing is going to take a lot of energy out of you :)

I hope you got my email, if not let me know.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I have been introducing kids for more than 25 years to Herriot, but there were still things to find out about him. Thanks for the picture of Skeldale House, Vaishnavi. And also for the weblink.

Avid Reader said...

I just posted about Herriot today! What are the odds? I love these books too. They are definite comfort reads.

SoulMuser said...

OH,hope you are better now :-) I should read this - I think I have one book of his somewhere. Thanks for the review!

Vaishnavi said...

@Avi - It is NOT a book about pets :-/ I am going to make you read every single Herriot book!

@leafonatree - So true, Herriot balances things so well through out the book that it is an absolute joy to read. And thanks a lot :)

@Urbi - Herriot is one in a million. I wish you many happy hours reading the other two books :)

@Veens - Thank you! You will love Herriot's books, I can guarantee that!

@Suvro Sir - My pleasure entirely Sir! Thanks a lot for the comment :)

@Avid Reader - You said it, "comfort reads" is the perfect description!

@Soul - Anytime. Do read his books if you have the chance. And I am quite well now thanks :)