Saturday, October 10, 2020

"If Only They Could Talk" by James Herriot

 If, like me, you see the title of this book and gasp, "Wait, there's another James Herriot book I haven't read yet?!?!?" let me allay your questions.  When the Herriot books were originally published in the UK, publishers in America thought they were too short to be a hit over here, so they combined short books into bigger ones and retitled them.  So If Only They Could Talk and the next UK book, It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, were combined into All Creatures Great and Small in the US, basically.

Anyway, I've read all of Herriot's books, but long ago.  Like, more than twenty years ago.  I'm teaching high school lit to another niece this year, and she likes animals, so I thought this might be a fun author for her to read.  But I didn't want to intimidate her with a big, thick book, so I got her this smaller one instead.  And got one myself, while I was at it, since I semi-collect these MacMillan Collector's Library editions.  They're so cute and pretty and fun to read and... yeah. 

Well, naturally I had to reread this book before I could teach it.  And I am happy to say that I loved it all over again.  Herriot had me laughing at least once a chapter.  Sometimes, I laughed so much, I had to put my book down and wipe my eyes.  I adore his humor, so dry and absurdity-based and British.  My goodness, what writing.

If you've never read these, I suppose you might want to know what they're about.  James Herriot (actually James Wight) was a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England.  In this book, he first arrives there, fresh out of veterinary school, and encounters many unusual people and many interesting veterinary cases.  Some of which are fairly serious, and others of which are simply funny.  (And some of which are pretty icky, so don't read it if you think animal poop is too gross to ever be mentioned in print.)

I always thought that these were strictly non-fiction, told in a funny way, but I learned recently that Herriot did fictionalize some of his stories.  And many of the ones that supposedly occur in the 1930s and '40s are based on things that actually happened in the '60s and '70s, when he was writing.  You know what?  I don't even care.  It's Herriot's writing that delights me, after all, not whether or not these things actually happened exactly as he sets them down.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for a lot more cussing than I remember.  Maybe they cleaned it up some for the American edition?

This is my 4th book read and reviewed for my third go-'round with the Classics Club.


  1. I love these books so much. One of these days I am going to make it to Yorkshire to visit the World of James Herriot.

    1. Jennifer, that would be amazing! I would like to do that too. This edition has an afterword written by a woman who was so inspired by his books as a child, she became a sheep farmer and now lives a in Yorkshire in the very area where he was a vet! That was nifty.

  2. I listened to all the American versions on audiobook, they were voiced by Christopher Timothy who played Herriot/Wight in the movies. I listened to these over the course of the last two years, and I definitely think they didn't have much cursing printed, just "he cursed" or something. I want to read the biography Alfred Wight's son wrote next.

    I find things MUCH grosser to see and experience than read about in this case, it took me a bit to get over the shock of some of the level of gross, but it ended up being more informative/funny rather than vulgar, it was just fact not excess. What was super hard were the animal abuse and deaths.(Also a few ones, including a suicide, just a warning).

    1. Livia, interesting!!! I would really like to read the bio too, one of these days.

      And yes, I think in a lot of cases, reading a description of something is less icky than seeing it. Like, your brain can kind of censor it for you? And, as you say, he wasn't talking about things like manure to be shocking or gross or vulgar, they were just... part of the job.

  3. I recently read All Creatures Great and Small, and no, there was quite a bit of cussing. But I still enjoyed it very much. :)

    1. Kendra, maybe my teenage self just... glossed over the cussing. It's weird, but British people cussing is so much more palatable than Americans, to me. So weird. But it simply doesn't bother me tons. I know it would bother some people, though.


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(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)