A sassy pageturner – smart, fun and thought-provoking

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

Although I don’t really believe in having guilty pleasures as far as choice of reading goes, I don’t read much what marketers call ‘women’s commercial fiction’. When I do read a book that falls into this category, it does feel like a guilty pleasure though and I revel in it, usually devouring said book in a couple of sittings. That’s what I did with Allison Pearson’s latest novel How Hard Can it Be? (reviewed here), and that’s what I did with The Cows too and I really enjoyed it. I am familiar with the author from the TV and her YA books, so was expecting a smart, fun but hopefully thought-provoking novel about interesting women with that provocative title. The prologue is provocative too…

Cow: a fully grown female animal of a domesticated breed of cattle, used as a source of milk or beef.
A cow is officially the name given to a heifer when it has had a calf. …
Cows are destined to be in a constant hormonal state, either pregnant or producing milk. A heifer is a piece of meat, merely a potential source of produce. Beyond that  they don’t offer much . . . apparently.
Some might say this is reflected in human society and the way it regards women.
Some might not.
There are many types of women and every effort is needed for a woman not to be seen just as a heifer or a cow. Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.
Cows don’t need to follow the herd.

O’Porter has set out her stall.  She goes on to introduce us to three women:

  • Tara: A forty-something single mum and successful TV documentary maker, making films about real people in real situations. As the book starts, she is trying to get a confession of harassment out of a sweaty man in a hotel room.
  • Cam: A successful lifestyle blogger. Camilla is a thirty-something ‘six foot one, an un-natural blonde’ who lives alone and has a lover twelve years her junior. Her daily blog  in which she writes about her life and positive messages to empower women is read my millions.
  • Stella: PA to a photographer, Stella lost her identical twin Alice to ovarian cancer a year ago and is still grieving and incomplete without her sister. She and Alice had loved Cam’s blog.

These three take it in turns to narrate their stories and each will face major crises – Tara will be internet-shamed when a private moment becomes public; Camilla will face a critical backlash when she publishes her desire to be childless; Stella will go deeper into personal darkness as she struggles with memories of the more popular Alice. The three narrators’ own stories gradually converge with some great dramatic moments, plenty of heartache and a couple of twists before the perhaps inevitable resolution.

O’Porter writes with confidence. This book is frank and funny and confronts many of the tropes about modern womens’ lives head-on. Her three protagonists are not typical stereotypes and that was refreshing, even if the subsidiary characters were – but that’s half the point, I think.  I enjoyed this sassy page-turner a lot – I look forward to her next. (8/10)

Source: Review copy – thank you.

Dawn O’Porter, The Cows (Harper Collins, April 2017) hardback, 464 pages.

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