Genre: semi-autobiographical; humor; historical fiction
Plot Summary: James Herriot is a young vet fresh out of school and eager to find his place in the world. He answers an ad for a veterinary assistant in the Yorkshire Dales, and consequently does become part of a different world—a place full of memorable characters, where pets and farm animals alike find a memorable place in his heart, just as their owners do; where farmers with Yorkshire dialect invite him in for a “bit o’ dinner”, and where the lovely young daughter of one of the farmers soon captures more than his attention. Audiobook excerpt read by Christopher Timothy.
Trivia: James Herriot is really the pen name of James Alfred Wight. Visit the World of James Herriot official website here.
My Review: I first heard of this series from my aunt, a farmer’s wife, who greatly encouraged me to read them, saying they were her favorite books of all time. And if Aunt E. gave high praise for a certain book, you know there’s something to it! But they really didn’t look that interesting to me. I wondered how intrigued I could really get reading about calfing and tuberculin testing.
Then I watched the All Creatures Great and Small tv series that were filmed in the 1970’s, and I was sold! There was something about each little animal story and character that drew you in and made you want more. So I picked up the first in the series and settled down to read all about the adventures James Herriot, Siegfried and Tristan, and Tricki Woo.
I found the book just about as captivating as the show. Some time had elapsed since I had seen it, so that the stories in the book were only vaguely familiar, and I never could quite remember how they had ended, so I didn’t feel that watching it first ruined anything for me. I actually preferred being able to hear the Yorkshire dialect in my head as I read it, something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I hadn’t seen them.
If you look the book up on Amazon, there are over 200 reviews, and very few of them below 3 stars, so that is testament to the fact that they are well-loved! There is something sweet and simple about it really. Each dog, each cat, each cow or piglet had their own story, so that it didn’t get monotonous. Besides, there were plenty of colorful characters to keep the story alive. The thing that makes the book so humorous is the realistic people and situations. Siegfried was so hilarious because he reminded me of a few people I know! I could empathize with James because my dad was a farmer and knew some of the same predicaments (for example, it is an unwritten rule that cows choose to give birth on Sunday mornings right as it’s time to get ready for church). Another thing I appreciated was that though it is about a veterinary surgeon, it doesn’t get bogged down with scientific names and facts. I mean, you don’t feel as though you’re reading a college textbook. The author gives the average reader just enough information to understand the medical situations, but doesn’t bore you with it.
However, I started to get antsy to finish it about halfway through the book. I can’t say it was because it was boring. Maybe it was because there was a lack of plot, and it was really just a collection of small, everyday adventures. There is nothing wrong with that, and it was a joy to read, but I longed to get moving to some action-adventure. I think it would have helped if there had been more adventures with Tristan in the book. Thankfully, the romance with Helen moves the second half of the story along to the end. In my opinion, it was the dates with Helen that were the most comedic.
Although this didn’t really bother me, be aware there is some language issues throughout.
Please don’t pass over this gem! If you’re in the mood for something quiet and subtle, this certainly will hit the spot! And then, don’t forget to try out the tv series—it isn’t everyday that a film version does a book credit, but I thought they did it remarkably well!
You can also watch the documentary about the making of the show (unless you hold to the opinion that getting behind-the-scenes spoils the mystery of it).
Someday I would also like to get ahold of the book, “The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father,” by Jim Wight.