If Only They Could Talk – A Book Of Laughter And Joy For All Animal Lovers.
James Alfred Wight, the British veterinary surgeon and writer, is renowned for his semi-autobiographical works written under the name 'James Herriot', and they chronicle some of the most amusing and magical moments from his life as a veterinarian. His reminiscences as a surgeon are pleasantly mild and warm to read and his style of narration that describe his adventures with the animals and their owners is of the most hilarious form that can make even the most serious of the reader burst out in a laugh. Apart from being incredibly entertaining, Herriot's books also offer a historical perspective at the practice of veterinary science that was followed in Britain during the time period.
In If Only They Could Talk, the first book in a series of his semi-autobiographies, the reader gets acquainted with a young James Herriot, just out of veterinary college, taking up a rural practice in the town of Thirsk, a small market town in North Yorkshire, England, during the late 1930s. In the narrative he creates a fictional village called Darrowby based on the town of Thirsk and the surroundings rural areas, which act as the perfect setting for describing his amusing experiences from the early days of his veterinary career.
Herriot narrative magically captures the natural beauty of Yorkshire Dales.
He joins as an assistant to the eccentric 'Siegfried Farnon' – based on the actual veterinary surgeon 'Donald Sinclair' under which James Wight originally practiced in Thirsk – a veterinarian in 'Darrowby', who is portrayed by Herriot as a bombastic yet good-hearted character. Herriot who was hoping for some tranquil life at the rural Darrowby soon finds himself literally knee-deep in highly amusing adventures in which the farmers, animals and a bunch of other characters - like 'Siegfried Farnon' and his lazy brother 'Tristan Farnon' - adding to the merry. In the very first chapter we initially meet Herriot while he is performing a calving right in the middle of a winter night, drenched in sweat, blood, snow and mud, and wondering about the situation he is in when compared to the squeaky clean picture of a veterinary surgeon performing a calving that was provided in his obstetrics book while training.
"My mind went back to that picture in the obstetrics book. A cow standing in the middle of a gleaming floor while a sleek veterinary surgeon in a spotless parturition overall inserted his arm to a polite distance. He was relaxed and smiling, the farmer and his helpers were smiling, even the cow was smiling.
That man in the picture had just finished an excellent lunch and had moved next door to do a bit of calving just for the sheer pleasure of it, as a kind of dessert."
This observation, which lightens the mood along with some comical dialogs that ensues with cow’s owner, sets the tone for the book. Even while at the end of his wits, we find in Herriot a character who finds amusement from simple things from his surroundings. This adds an extra bit of appeal even in his descriptions of surgeries and other animal medical conditions, which can be a bit squeamish if described in dry medical terms.
The imaginative power of James Herriot and his capacity as a storyteller are praiseworthy as these amusing stories are not dry descriptions of incidents from his days as a veterinary surgeon, but they are often spruced up by the author with smartly crafted elements of humor to evoke absolute joy and laughter in the reader. He is also a sharp observer of the people, animals and their association in an agrarian society as these stories offer a delightful insight born out of his observations into the country life of Yorkshire. The life of the farmers and the role of animals in their emotions of happiness, accomplishment, sadness and even heartbreak are all portrayed by Herriot with the flair of a master narrator.
If only they could talk undoubtedly is at its pinnacle when it comes to the descriptions of the landscape in which the book is set. These wonderful tales with their morsels of emotions like elation, sorrow, and humiliation all flamboyantly honeyed with humor can delight both the general reader and lovers of animal stories.
The World of James Herriot – A museum in tribute to Herriot
The World of James Herriot, a main tourist attraction in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, England, is the former veterinary office of James Herriot, now preserved as a writer's home museum. The museum is a tribute to the life and books of Herriot and houses veterinary science exhibits from the time period.
The former veterinary office of James Herriot is now the 'World of James Herriot' museum. [Source]