When this book arrived on my doorstep for review, I remember getting excited about its unique premise; Night Watch: The Vet Suite by Gillian Wigmore is a collection of 3 novellas all about rural veterinarians. I promptly forgot about it for 2 years, but finally picked it up after searching for something on my bookshelf that would offer me something different, which it certainly delivered.

Book Summary

The first novella of Night Watch is broken up into a few different sections. “Love, Ramona” tells the story of a woman who is not a veterinarian, but ends up a marrying one. Ramona and Louie are longtime childhood friends, who have embarked on a backpacking trip around Europe after high school. We meet them at the beginning of their trip, when they make love for the first time. We then meet Ramona and her new boyfriend as they meet up with Louie and his girlfriend in Fiji, and then again decades later when Ramona’s husband is dead and Louie comes to console Ramona. “Bare Limbs in Summer Heat” introduces Celia and Dustin, two siblings out on a call together on Christmas Eve, when a farmer is struggling with one of his cows giving birth. Dustin has inherited the veterinary practice from their father, which Celia is both proud of, and resents. She misses their closeness as children, struggling to find the same happiness as a wife and mother. Lastly, “Night Watch” is about a gay, rural veterinarian named Tom, and his often-ignored urban boyfriend Hugh; this novella is also broken up into sections. Tom is a hard worker and utterly devoted to his business while Hugh is often left home alone, clearly unmoored and searching for purpose while he awaits with yet another dinner growing cold on the table.

My Thoughts

The first novella isn’t about veterinarians, or even animals at all. There are a few references to Ramona’s husband being a vet, but it’s really about her, and her ongoing love for another man. And because the book began with this story, I started off thinking the book wasn’t going to deal with vets directly, instead it would be dealt with as a secondary background topic. But the second and third novella are very focused on the life of a rural vet, so the collection seemed quite disjointed to me,and struggled to really absorb the writing. I kept expecting storylines to take drastic turns away from the animals in the second and third stories, but it was really the first that became the outlier, causing the entire book to seem incohesive. It also didn’t help that two of the novellas were broken into mini stories, while the second was one big story – I was hoping for more consistency throughout.

Aside from my complaint above, I really enjoyed each story, and the characterization was incredibly strong. Even though we only meet Ramona at odd points in her life (on vacation and after her husbands death), I began to feel as though I knew her very well, and sympathized with her sometimes erratic behaviour towards the end. Louie remained a mystery, but I believe that was done on purpose. Cecelia and Dustin were also very accessible, and the nostalgia between the two siblings was a thread that was first established in Ramona and Louie’s childhoods together too. Tom and Hugh were the two characters who challenged preconceptions about what life with a rural veterinary practice could entail; it was all about love. Tom loved his animals, the practice, and Hugh. But Hugh only loved Tom and Hugh.

The writing is spare but descriptive enough to feel well-placed within the story. The female characters offer much more introspection, as two of the three novellas are written from a female perspective. Even though animals may appear to be the focus of this book, it is always human relationships that offer the challenging questions:

“I’d thought we’d love each other, know each other, need each other like that until we were dead. I hadn’t seen it would change. I never knew I’d be half a person for my whole adult life, that being a wife wouldn’t fix it and being a mother had nothing to do with it. I mourned every day for something I’d never heard anyone else acknowledge, least of all my brother.”

-p. 84 of Night Watch: The Vet Suite by Gillian Wigmore

The pace at which characters speak with one another slows down the entire book in a way that highlights how simple yet effective the word choices are. I didn’t rush through this one because it was so short anyway, and I wanted to savour my time with each person. It’s an odd little collection, but there are moments of beauty in the unexpected nooks and crannies of these novellas.

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