By Maud Casey
A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else.
I have thought about the first line of Barbara Comyns’ novel The Vet’s Daughter since 1993. I was in graduate school and my wonderful professor, the writer Mary Elsie Robertson, suggested I read Comyns. I did and I have been forever grateful for the recommendation. Comyns is that variety of obscure writer who is a secret literary password. To love her is to enter into a speakeasy filled with levitating teenagers, floods, plague, and the occasional monkey. She authored eleven novels between 1947 and 1989 before her death in 1992, with notably captivating titles, such as Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead and Our Spoons Came From Woolworths. When, in the late Fifties, her original publisher—Heinemann—sent her odd fairy tale of a novel, The Vet’s Daughter, to Graham Greene for a blurb, he responded, “Please, send me no more lady novelists.” I’m not sure precisely which part of The Vet’s Daughter Graham objected to, which part he found too lady-ish—its concern with things domestic? Its girl protagonist? In any case, I’m happy to report, he came around because there’s his effusive blurb on the most recent effort to save it from obscurity, the beautiful edition put out by The New York Review of Books with a foreword by Kathryn Davis and a painting by Louise Bourgeois on the cover that, at first, you might mistake for lovely red stockings hanging on a clothesline but, look closer, those aren’t lovely red stockings, that’s bloody sinew and bone. (The painting’s title is Untitled (Legs and Bones).)