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Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
17
4.2 out of 5 stars
The Vet's Daughter: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics)
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on 6 April 2015
I didn't find it as striking or absorbing as Comyn's earlier work, "Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead" - the quirky surreal element limited to Alice's levitational feats. Also, it lacks the black humour of "Who Was Changed". Instead, the unpalatable injustices of life are presented in a dour, unrelenting simplicity through the eyes of Alice, victim and heroine, who endures her daily trials, big and small, with a limp stoicism. It makes for a downbeat melancholy feel, emphasised by the austere, 1950's parochial setting.

I wonder too if Alice, at seventeen, is drawn a shade too naive, too childlike for her years. There does seem something stunted and switched-off about her, dare I say insipid? Not to say such young women don't exist, just that her passivity does rather mute the drama. At times her father's treatment resembles that of a vicious schoolboy torturing a prone, insentient insect.
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on 22 August 2014
This is my first acquaintance with Barbara Comyns. This novel seems to be generally regarded as one of her best. It is agreeable and possessed of a strong sense of time and place. In a way I think this is both the book’s strength and its weakness. By contemporary standards the writing and the events described seem rather muted.

If Barbara Comyns reminds me of anyone it is Barbara Pym, wonderful at her best but variable in standard. Here we find the same delight in particularities, but also a fresh dimension, which dominates the second half of Ms. Comyns’ novel. I find the treatment of levitation and its metaphorical or symbolic implications less successful than the observations on people, relationships and places which make up the earlier sections of the book.

When all is said and done, while I find the book not entirely satisfying, there is certainly sufficient of interest to prompt further incursions into the author’s writing.
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on 29 July 2016
What a very very extraordinary and magnificent little book! Right up my street! Highly original, and a brilliantly compulsive read. The voice of the main character, Alice, 17, is completely compelling. I suspect she will stay with me for a very long time. And the storyline is shrewd and wonderful. I absolutely loved it. Excuse me if I go now and just see what else I can find by Barbara Comyns ... Perfect!
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on 1 January 2016
A strange fairy tale about the hated daughter of an abused wife, who finds that she has the power of levitation.
I have read several novels by the author and found that the plots are interesting, the stories are redolent of the period in which they are set, and the style is unusual and interesting. For me though they are spoilt by the whiney, mealy-mouthed victimhood of her heroines. Please Barbara, write about a woman with a bit of gumption...
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on 17 May 2017
I was disappointed not to have joyed this story, but found the details too upsetting, being an animal lover. Not a pleasant experience.
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on 5 October 2017
Made levitation seem possible
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on 4 February 2017
A very depressing book, but interesting....
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on 25 November 2014
Good ,as always
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on 26 September 2015
This is the second book I have read by Barbara Commyns - she writes in a very distinctive, easily read style. Can recommend wholeheartedly.
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on 11 February 2011
The Vet's Daughter tells the story of Alice, the eponymous vet's daughter, who lives in an unfashionable area of London with her irritable, brusque, cruel father, her timid, suffering mother and a whole menagerie of animals. Following a series of traumatic occurrences in her life, Alice discovers that she has the ability to levitate and things appear to improve for her: she moves to rural Hampshire to act as companion to a frail lady and finally begins to enjoy herself away from the tyranny of her father. However, this cannot last for long and soon she finds herself even worse off than before.

The novel is written in the first person from Alice's perspective, in prose that is spare and bleak with not a single word being wasted and no event without significance at some point in the novel. The starkness of the writing makes the terrible things that happen stand out because they are reported in such a mundane way, such as when she tells the reader: "One morning a dreadful thing happened. A man came to measure Mother for her coffin as if she were dead already. He said Father had told him to come." The straightforward nature of these simple statements makes it seem as though these situations are usual, and my heart went out to Alice every time I read something like this that she should think that the case. Her voice is lost and sorrowful, a child trying to make sense of an adult world which is cruel and confusing, and at times it is almost painful to read. There are brief flashes of happiness, but these are fleeting and serve only to provide glimpses of what the reader quickly suspects Alice will never be able to attain.

Although she is the narrator, Alice has no agency in this sad little novel: things happen to her and all she can do is talk about them to the reader. Her power goes no further than little things, such as rescuing a woodlouse from the fire with a teaspoon, and that makes this actions seem all the more poignant and significant. There are times when she appears to be able to exercise her own will, but this is swiftly undermined as Alice is brought back down to where she started. Her lack of ability to act makes her seem somehow detached from the events of the novel, as though she is disconnected from them even though they happen to her. This detachment is manifested in Alice's levitation, which Comyns handles very skillfully. I like the way that at first it is impossible to say whether Alice really floats in the air or whether it is just her imagination protecting her mind from things that have happened to her. Even so, told in the same style of prose as the rest of the novel, her levitation comes across as simple fact and I accepted it without question. Even Alice's levitation goes from being something that she can control at will to something that she must do at the will of others and so it is in many ways emblematic of her position in the novel. It's not just a silly device to add interest or get around awkward plot problems (my issue with a lot of magical realism) but an integral part of the book which is vital to the tragic yet inevitable ending.
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