RogerBW's Blog

Once Bitten, Nick Marsh 10 August 2021

2016 mimetic fiction. Alan Reece qualifies as a vet, and finds that actual practice barely overlaps with what they taught him at the Langford Veterinary School.

Disclaimer: Nick is a friend; we game together and co-host a film podcast. I did not pay for this book. He knows I'm going to give it an honest review.

And it's very good, but it's sometimes tough going; there's emotional rawness here which feels drawn from the life, the sort of bottom-dropping-out-of-the-world moment that few people talk about but which I suspect is universally recognisable. I read the first half one chapter at a time between doing other things; it was too much taken all at once.

Most of the chapters are quite short and describe single incidents; there are occasional references to earlier or later events, but mostly they're complete in themselves (with a stylistic trick, which gets slightly irritating once one notices it, of foreshadowing the tone of what's going to happen in the next). As one might expect from this, it's much more slice of life than a single coherent story, and the ending is rather sudden and unheralded.

There are diversions into technical detail which I very much enjoyed (some perhaps not for the weak of stomach), but what I really took away from this is a philosophy of animal ownership, or rather a lack of one: why do you have a dog or cat or snake or whatever in the first place? If the answer is "because it's a thing people like me do"… well, maybe that's not really good enough. At the very least, you shouldn't assume other people share it; one of the most powerful scenes is with the cat owner who "just wants it put to sleep" while the vet tries to explain how there isn't even anything terribly wrong with him. (Of course, since this is a commercial enterprise, the customer is always right… as far as they know.)

But then realising that other people exist as separate entities is really quite a late stage of childhood development…


  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:52pm on 10 August 2021

    My parents had a perfectly healthy 7 year old dog put to sleep in the early 1970s when I was about 5. The problem was my mum had developed terrible allergies to the dog (a lovely male boxer dog), and the anti-histamines available then made you very drowsy all the time. And back in the 1970s it was very hard to re-home a 7 year old dog, nobody wanted him. So rather than have the dog be miserable in a dogs home for the rest of his life, they had him put to sleep. They lied about it to me and my brother for almost 20 years, they knew we'd be heart broken that he was dead. They said he'd gone to another home. I still love that dog. And now I'm allergic to dogs too so I know what my mum went through.

  2. Posted by Dr Bob at 05:45pm on 10 August 2021

    Back in the 80s when the oil boom was a thing in Aberdeen, the Zoology dept had several reptiles which had been confiscated by the SSPCA from oil workers with more money than sense. The saddest was an iguana which was so thin the skin was hanging off it in folds, and its tail was brown and a weird angle because it had accidentally been jammed in a door. It was skinny because the owner thought all reptiles were carnivores, so had been feeding it cat food. The only food the poor thing could stomach when rescued was vegetarian baby food. But exotic pets were high status 'toys' and pet stores didn't have quite the duty of care they do these days...

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