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.