Book Review

Jo the Witch Vet by Joanne Sadler


OK,  so maybe I’m not the target demographic, but Jo the Witch Vet by Joanne Sadler is one of the most atrocious books I’ve read in a long time. Taken in context as a book for fucking children, its poor grasp of grammar, simplistic imagery and its frequent poetic slips render this a terrible example to set for the young. It is lazy, it is underedited and the whole thing feels like a rush “make a buck” job as a book to sell to vets for their waiting rooms.

That’s where I read in, in the dog waiting area of the Queen Mother Hospital for Small Animals. I’m sat here out of hope, because my dog isn’t here with me, my dog is somewhere within the vaults, being treated for his still persistent mystery illness. I picked up Jo the Witch Vet in the hope that lilting rhyming couplets might be enough to temporarily distract me from my pain, for the premise – which I do like – had me intrigued.

Notice Jo shares a name with the author: is this wish fulfilment, masturbatory fiction, is Joanne Sadler a witch who wishes she was a vet? Because the poor grasp of veterinary care the book is riddled with makes it very apparent – one hopes – that she isn’t a vet who wishes she was a witch.

Jo is a loner who keeps performing witchcraft on cats that she finds. Normally in fiction, when an outsider individual who lives in a cave on the edge of town, a clear social outcast, starts doing experiments on animals, it is a foreshadowing of the performance of experiments on humans, and one doesn’t need to be that distracted by the mystery illness of ones young puppy to fear that Jo’s growing sense of self worth and power will escalate beyond the animal kingdom, especially given the speed with which she goes from nobody to self-defined animal saviour. The most worrisome idea is that Jo seems to hoard all the animals that she saves, an idea of possession – a life for a life – that is old fashioned when it comes to animals and downright unacceptable if – as I believe the narrative trajectory implies – she graduates onto human patients. If vets kept all the animals they saved from illness, their business would dry up. It’s a short term plan.

I’ve ended up in fucking England today, which I hadn’t intended to do. To be honest, I didn’t do the research I should’ve done before jumping on a train and heading to a place called Potter’s Bar, which to me sounded like a London suburb. This idea was confirmed by the fact that I could tap into the station using an Oyster card, which I thought meant I wouldn’t be leaving London. Then, off the train, I was in England and my Oyster meant nothing. No longer in London but, alas, in England.

I had to walk down a dirt track, I had to wander past a mile of semi detached houses without a single shop or pub beside me, I had to go through a tiny industrial estate and I even had to accidentally make eye contact with people who live their little lives in this little Middle England hole. I had no idea England existed so close to London.

Potter’s Bar, walking through it a different way as I headed back to civilisation  (i. e. London), was a mess. I passed an abandoned set of garages, fenced off and over grown. I passed a road full of massive lorries that had fat men sleeping in the carriages. I passed a burnt out and smashed up car,  left in front of someone’s house, its charred shell covered with council notices demanding someone takes it away. No one’s going to, Potter’s Bar, just like no one is going to magic away whatever is wrong with my puppy best friend any time soon.

I like the idea of vets being magical, of one potion or one spell or one fucking operation being able to cure Cubby, but that is not the case. His illness – unlike those of the seven cats, the worm, the bee, the butterfly and all the other fuckers that amateur vet Jo cures using witchcraft alone – is more complicated than that, is more real than that, is more heartbreaking than that.

It would be great if Jo was real, and I understand the impetus behind the creation of this character and this scenario. What’s annoying is Sadler’s execution. It is not difficult to write in rhyming couplets, it is not difficult to make sure the couplets scan right, that grammar is good and that the rhymes actually rhyme. That isn’t magic, that is writing. It’s a solid idea for an illustrated children’s book, but in practice it falls out about as badly as it could, the writer resting on the idea alone.

But it’s easy to have a good idea for a story*, it’s far harder to write one. Sadler did less than half the work.

I would give both Jo the Witch Vet and Potter’s Bar a wide berth, though as my pup wasn’t discharged, I will be forced back to Potter’s Bar, so may have to reassess the town (is it a town?) and the book. But I’m looking forward to neither.


* Five off the cuff: 1) miners dig into the kingdom of the unicorns; 2) a dog becomes the greatest arms dealer the world has ever seen; 3) two people fall in love in a desert; 4) two camels fall in love in a town, they’re gay; 5) a man is trapped in a lift for 18 days and on his release he is claustrophobic, the story is a comedy about his avoidance of small spaces and all the scrapes he gets into. There’s five, take ’em, they’re free.

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