Review: The Vet’s Daughter, by Barbara Comyns

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.


13 thoughts on “Review: The Vet’s Daughter, by Barbara Comyns

  1. I haven’t read,this one, but I love her other work which is darkly funny and rather macabre. From the reviews I’ve read I always think The Vet’s Daughter sounds darker and less humorous,

  2. I love Comyns so much – I love the contrast of the matter of fact style and the surreal or dark scenes she is describing. This one I found powerful rather than funny, but I’m sure there were humorous scenes in there too… weren’t there? It’s been a while since I read it.

    • I know she’s one of your faves, SImon. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to recall humorous scenes from The Vet’s Daughter and I’m afraid they are few & far between. But yes, it’s a powerful book.

  3. I read Who Was Changes and Who Was Dead last year. Thanks for this review, it turns out my local library has a copy of The Vet’s Daughter!

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