The Cows follows events in the lives of three women, each in a different decade of their lives as they face the trials and tribulations of being a modern woman in a modern world.
For hard-working single Mum Tara, this means rocking up to work hours early every single day just so she can leave on time to pick up her six year old daughter from school – despite her efforts, she still has to suffer the snide comments and boys’ club attitude of her male counterparts. Tara doesn’t see why she shouldn’t have it all – a good man, a family, a good job in TV that she works very hard at to succeed – indeed, why shouldn’t she? Unfortunately for Tara, an out of character experience after a disastrous, yet strangely fortuitous internet date leaves her in an extremely unenviable position, and looks increasingly like it might be about to ruin her life completely.
Stella. To paraphrase a famous song, “How do you solve a problem like Stella?” Being a surviving twin would be hard enough, but having lost both her twin sister and Mum to female cancers in a very short space of time, she then finds out she is a carrier of the BRCA gene that gives her an 85% chance of contracting a form of the disease herself. Her only option, other than to wait and see, is to have her breasts and ovaries removed. Given that Stella’s biggest wish is to have a family, specifically a baby, could this be enough to tip her over the edge? A few more prods and indeed it is, her resulting actions terrifying and reprehensible, although it’s testament to Dawn O’Porter’s characterisation that you may well find yourself feeling sympathetic towards Stella, despite the fact that she’s behaving so badly. Personally, I didn’t like her but I did feel I understood why she behaved the way she did.
Finally, in our trio of strong, determined women, is Camilla.
Cam has been a lifestyle blogger since blogs were a new thing – she’s a kind of IT girl on the blog circuit although she tries to shun the limelight as much as possible. Online, she pulls no punches and blogs about everything in almost excruciating detail – an honesty that has made her an online superstar and allows her to sustain a very comfortable lifestyle – thankyou very much! She writes about her relationship with her Mum, her sisters, herself, her sex life with a much younger man and her absolute certainty that she does not ever want to be a mother. She somehow finds herself as the ‘Face of Childless Women’ and grasps the mantle with her usual aplomb, facing misogyny, trolling, contempt, disbelief and lots of other stuff from people who don’t believe the ‘Cam’ that she puts out online or think she’s weird, or abnormal to not want a conventional family life. She’s tough though, so she can handle it – even if she knows she shouldn’t have to.
Having a number of narrators can be confusing, however in The Cows, the three women’s voices are distinctive and though their lives overlap at certain points, ultimately separate. They are different women. Their personalities are different, their aims in life are completely different, only their strength in adversity, determination to survive and succeed in getting what they want is universal. Although I watched several of her documentaries years ago, I haven’t read anything by Dawn O’Porter before, and I find her female characterisation inspiring and her writing style engaging. She has experience and/or knowledge of the subject areas she writes about, and this shows in her character and thematic development.
To finish this review I wanted to mention that some of the themes running through this book are really relevant and important, especially to a younger generation who have grown up with the internet and the lack of privacy it brings. Trial by internet is today’s judge and jury and the demonisation and shaming of ordinary people who make a silly mistake, or make a bad decision, and end up an Internet sensation really happens – we see it all the time. I actually found it quite uncomfortable at times because I know that if I came across a story like Tara’s, on the internet, I would probably think of her very differently and negatively in comparison to how I felt about her when I could see the situation from her point of view. More ‘daft cow’ than anything more sinister. There’s a lesson in there, definitely. There’s also a lesson about behaviour, and how it’s not always as black and white as you might think.
Thankyou to Harper Collins, Dawn O’Porter and Netgalley for an advance copy of this in return for an honest review.