JAMES HERRIOT by Graham Lord


The Life of a Country Vet
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 A well-tempered, well-researched biography of the world's most famous veterinarian, from novelist Lord (God and All His Angels, 1997, etc.). After buying over 50 million copies of his books chronicling the gentle meanderings of a country vet, readers may feel they have a pretty good handle on the life of Alf Wight, a.k.a. James Herriot. Not so, claims Wight's good friend Lord, whose 1972 review of It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet in London's Sunday Express pushed Herriot to the forefront. According to Lord, the books are pretty much one part fact to two parts creative writing. As he details the life of Wight, from his boyhood in Glasgow to his death of prostate cancer in 1995, Lord never suggests that the vet was anything other than modest, self-effacing, and kind, or that the Yorkshire dales that Wight so magically evoked--``the sparkling streams, the birds calling in the huge silences, the wide-open spaces''--were anything less than cozy in the extreme. But he does want to set the record as straight as possible, fussing with dates, calling into suspicion various war stories spun by Wight, and unmasking the true personalities of Siegfried, Helen, Tristan, et al., none of whom shines under Lord's scrutiny. The author has unearthed plenty of nuggets, such as Wight's nervous breakdown, brought on by depression stemming from brucellosis (transmitted by infected pregnant cows), and the debt Wight owed to an ex-hairdresser from Pinner, and he also does a good job analyzing the simple, direct style Wight brought to his homey material, both in his own critique and in interviews with Wight's publishers and editors. Lord is a bit too bedazzled by the wealth Wight amassed and seems obsessed with the vet's denying that he kept a diary when he obviously did, but otherwise he sticks to the facts, and his ocassional conjectures feel plausable. Doubtless this biography will be a feast for the Herriot hordes. (photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-7867-0460-8
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


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