James Alfred Wright was a veteran veterinarian of many years when he decided to write these semi-autobiographical works under the pen mane James Herriot. In doing so he created a series of books that exude warmth and humour, perfect for a winter’s night with some mulled wine, which, incidentally, I had for the first time the other day and rather enjoyed it.
Fresh out of veterinary school James Herriot takes a job in the cosy Yorkshire Village of Darrowby where he meets all kinds of weird, wonderful creatures and their eccentric owners.
The first thing that strikes when reading any Herriot book is the immediate way that the reader is drawn in and becomes enamoured with the world of Yorkshire, these days everyone seems to set their fictionalised autobiographies there, but this is, by a country mile, the seminal series.
It exudes a timeless appeal, bringing to life the decades of the 1930’s through to the ’50’s and convincingly shows the changing procedures of animal medicine, the constant mistrust of the farmers and also the effects and after effects of the second world war.
These books are a veritable mix of emotions, there are stories which bring a lump to the throat, laugh out loud stories – Tricky woo, the pampered dog being a stand out character – but it has always been the first chapter that stood out for me.
Since reading these books for the first time, aged 11 or so, I have always been able to visualise the sheer brutality of what a vet had to go through to do his job in those days. Picture the scene, Herriot is helping with the calfing and tries for hours to bring out the calf which has turned inside the mother. Imagine, the 3AM call out, the stripping to the waist and sluicing on of cold water in the middle of a freezing wind to try to rescue a life…
Of course, I would never dream of telling you how it turns out as that would deprive you of the tense excitement the book often generates but the vividness of this and other scenes have the power to stay with you, making this book perfect for keeping warm with on these dark December nights.
The mix of the hardworking yet peaceful way of Yorkshire life, coupled with bizarre owners and some vicious animals are a must not just for animal lovers, but for anyone wanting to envelop themselves in something a little bit special. A past sadly gone forever but kept alive here for the joy of anyone who cares about the world we live in.