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review 2014-12-12 13:16
Decent, but not my style - Vet On Call by Marc Abraham
Vet on Call - Marc Abraham

Continuing this year's trend of reading books by vets, I found Marc Abraham's Vet on Call at the library and decided to give it a whirl. Abraham is well known in the UK by people who aren't me due to his regular appearances on the Paul O'Grady show, but this is the story of his first year running an out-of-hours small animal clinic in Brighton, a coastal city well known for its lively party scene. 


If you mentally lay James Herriot's output in a chronological line and placed the books I've read along it, Gillian Hicks' début would go at the beginning, her second a little further along, while Anna Birch would nestle happily next to Herriot's rather saccharine Every Living Thing. Vet On Call can go next to The Lord God Made Them All - it's still a good book but the edge is definitely blunter than my taste prefers.


As a small animal practitioner, Abraham establishes a distinct identity from the start. Where Hicks and Birch both had their own take on cases Herriot encountered, Abraham has stories of performing caesarean sections on guinea pigs rather than cows. He is concerned with the difficulties in running an out-of-hours vet service - rather surprisingly the first in Brighton. It was interesting enough and the stories entertaining.


Abraham touches on his own personal life and his own personality with a degree of honesty and self-awareness I find more rarely than I'd like. His focus remains largely on the job and how that affects him, the difficulty of living a nocturnal life for a man in his early 30's who's still keen to get out on the lash with his mates, and he presents himself as the fallible human he is.


As far as this sort of thing goes, this is pretty good. It's amusing, decently written, and I learned something. I'd certainly read other books of Abraham, but for me they'd be from the library rather than the shop.


3 stars.


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review 2014-08-20 12:05
Why hadn't I heard of this? - Vet on the Loose by Gillian Hick
Vet On The Loose - Gillian Hick

After the disappointment of Anna Birch's Call The Vet, my appetite was whetted for a good "My First Year As An ..." book. I had a poke around Amazon's "People Who Bought ... " suggesters and found this one, Vet on the Loose by Wicklow vet Gillian Hick. I hadn't previously heard of her, which is either surprising given the size of the place, or perfectly understandable given that I don't actually watch Irish TV, or read Irish newspapers, or interact with anything Irish if I can possibly help it. 


I was sold by the end of the prologue. Any story about castrating a horse which includes a young man showing enthusiasm for the testicles with the words "If I put dat in me sister's bed tonight it'll scare de shite ota her!" is going to be for me.


Vet On The Loose treads the expected path of a newly qualified Irish vet, more specifically that of a female vet at a time when women were still rare in the profession: the beginning of the 21st century. There are stories of the everyday sexism she faced (farmers asking when the real vet was going to arrive etc) which, having lived in Ireland for a good while, I buy totally. There are stories of Dublin council estates, posh Equine hospitals and bachelor hill farmers, and unlike Call the Vet, the stories centre on the cases. To a James Herriot devotee such as myself a couple of them tread familiar ground - there's no wine bottle *uncrosses legs* but we have mention of the sugar trick. However, it's done with enough of its own identity to feel fresh and one one them has the best punchline in the whole book. 


The writing, in particular, is excellent and Hick's ear for dialogue spot on. She manages with the smallest of details to show us her clients - and herself; I can *hear* the accents. Comic writing is tremendously difficult to do well and Hick is funny, educational and engaging. As it was mentioned in a few of the reviews I read, I'll confirm there is some spoken profanity but it's never the crux on which a joke hinges, merely a nod to an accurate representation of character (although there is not nearly enough to actually *be* accurate).


As I'm me, I'll complain that the funniest stories were all in the first half which led to an uneven experience as a whole, but to be honest there isn't a duff chapter in the thing.


Vet On The Loose deserves to have a wider audience that it does - it's published by The O'Brien Press who are small and Irish so you're unlikely to find this in your local bookshop, but - as I mentioned - it's currently £1.19 on Kindle and more than worth it. Hick has a second book out, Vet Among the Pigeons, (which I have already borrowed from the library), and I really, really hope she finds the time to write a third. 


4.5 stars.

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review 2014-07-29 14:24
Doesn't Quite Do Enough - Call The Vet by Anna Birch
Call the Vet: Farmers, Dramas and Disasters – My First Year as a Country Vet - Anna Birch

[Thanks must first and foremost go to the kind people at Random House/Ebury for providing me with an ARC - it cost me no monies, but I'm going to complain anyway.]


When I was 9, we took The Cat of the time to see our local vet, Mr Gilbert. Unlike these modern times full of trendy young things with whom I am on first name bases, Mr Gilbert could only ever be known as Mister Gilbert. I don't know how old he was exactly, but it was probably at least 192 because after he'd finished sticking pointy things into The Cat, he suggested I - who had been stroking her head and reassuring her in the manner of a 9-year-old who recognises this creature is the closest she's going to get to a pony - would make an excellent veterinary nurse. Hopefully he died soon afterwards and was spared the influx of wimmins into his profession, wimmins who were actual vets with actual qualifications and the actual ability to get really intimate with a cow.


Interestingly, a few years earlier than that, Anna Birch was told by her school that she wouldn't be be study the sciences because, as an all girl school, they didn't offer them. Happily, some years later, encouraged by her then boyfriend, Birch attended vet school as a mature student, qualified, and landed her first job in a small town in Dorset near the coastal town of Bridport. Bridport is where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall hangs out. I've never been, but I'm convinced they eat cous cous there.


Initially, I didn't think much of Call The Vet. I was inevitably going to make comparisons with the master, James Herriot - indeed, the book does itself - and the first chapter felt tremendously derivative. I'm not a vet and have no first hand experience of the correct response to a cow with a prolapsed uterus (although I can tell you what mine would be) but it all feels very familiar: large organ to be fed through a small hole, doubt, fear, even the trick with the wine bottle *crosses legs*. 


From there, I did find myself warming to it. It's less focused on the animal stories than James Herriot is, sometimes to its detriment. I'm not the greatest carer-about of romance anyway and Call The Vet spends too much time for my taste chronicling Birch's relationship - yay for her and everything, but I didn't find it terribly interesting. I'm here for the anal glands. 


Overall, it's not quite there. It doesn't do any of the things I'd hoped for with enough aplomb. It's not funny enough - although there's material, it's only written with an adequate comic hand. It's not interesting enough - while I did learn something, my impression is of more time spent on Birch's dog and her own feelings of inadequacy. It lack cohesion - the introductory language to Birch's colleagues is used two chapters in a row; the "it wasn't like this for James Herriot" sentiment is used more than once. Frustratingly, there are the glimmers of something more - following a disastrous/cringingly funny moment with an under-anaesthetised dog (which is criminally underwritten), Birch is told by the office colleague she roped in as assistant "I was scared and you were stupid", but this never extends into self-awareness. The "characters" left little impression on me.


While there are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon than lying in a postdrome stupor reading this book while Wren licks your feet, I'm not really seeing anything here to recommend it particularly. If you want a "my first year as a vet" book, this is just about "fine".


2.5 stars.





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