I like having lighter books to have as audiobook. There’s something very comforting about having a nice, fun book read to you by someone else. So, this last month, I went with The cows by Dawn O’Porter – her first adult novel.
After falling in love with the striking cover, I’d heard good things about it and was really looking forward to it.
This, however, will be my first negative review…
The Cows follows three women – Cam, Tara and Stella – as they try to build their lives around being strong, independent women. Cam is a world-famous lifestyle blogger with a ‘twenty-eight year old lover’ that gives her all the time and space she needs to be herself. Tara is a documentary filmmaker and single mother to six-year-old Annie who is caught on camera masturbating on a train after an amazing date with Jason. Stella is Jason’s PA, has lost both her mother and twin sister to cancer, will need operations to remove her breasts and ovaries, is desperate for a baby and has a boyfriend who doesn’t love her anymore.
Their parallel stories being to interweave as Tara’s embarrassment becomes a national scandal, and the questions of what it means to be a mother, a worker and a woman are all explored.
Ok, so I didn’t throw this across the room (it is a little difficult to do that with an audiobook, to be fair), and I did listen all the way to the end. I actually loved Cam as a character, and was hugely disappointed that it wasn’t just her story and that it ended the way that it did for her. She’s fun, positive but nervous; she’s independent with herself, but still has these insecurities that worked well and were actually underdeveloped in a lot of ways. The relationship with her mother was at times both too heavy-handed and not delved into enough. But I liked her.
Tara also worked quite well, although if I had to listen to her whinge anymore about what happened on the train, I was going to lose my cool. I cannot image what it’s like to get caught on camera whilst masturbating in public. I can imagine it would be quite a traumatic experience. But it becomes, rather quickly, the be-all and end-all of her existence, despite the fact she keeps mentioning her daughter, Annie, at the same time.
This relationship between Tara and her little girl starts well, but as the story progresses, it almost feels like Annie is an afterthought in everything. After being able to clearly show what it must be like for a single mum to navigate through life, she descends into a completely selfish, whining recluse, who leaves her daughter for about a month (it sounds like), whilst continually saying it’s only Annie that gets her through this tough time.
Get over it, love. Seriously.
But I leave the most offensive until last. Stella.
A part of me is glad for audiobook, and that I listen to them in my car on my own. It gives me the opportunity to shout at these characters repeatedly when they are being so bloody awful.
What O’Porter managed to do with this character is nothing short of an horrific miracle. She turned a character with one of the most tragic backstories into someone I hated with a passion. No sympathy. No care at all. Her grief, depression and self-deprecation in earlier chapters could have been something to pull me into caring about her, wanting her to do well and succeed.
The amount of times I wished she would just die is about the only upsetting thing about it.
She’s manipulative. She’s cruel. She’s vindictive. She’s a liar and totally pathetic. No wonder her boyfriend doesn’t love her anymore – she’s out of her flipping mind! The final straw, for me, after some pretty graphic and unpleasant scenes as she attempts to impregnate herself, is when she lies to Jason about having cancer so she can seduce him.
Yes. This character, with such a haunting, painful past, is reduced to that. And I’m sorry, maybe this is just the way I’m wired, but I don’t believe for a second that anyone is so desperate to have a baby that they would claim to being dying of cancer after she’d watched the people she loved more than anything in her life die from it. She’s completely cruel with it too. This twisted manipulation of her boss (just one of the several poorly developed male characters in the novel) made me so angry.
The repercussions? Pfft. Some more wallowing from her and then it all turns rosey.
Nope. Just nope.
As I explained in the mini synopsis, this is a story about modern womanhood and it’s relationship to the idea of woman as mother. What does that really mean? It’s an admirable question, one that should be raised and discussed. It often is, in fact, and is one of the cornerstones of modern feminism today.
But The Cows simply lacks depth. It tries to take this huge, complex subject on and pretty much fails due to it’s poor, poor character development. Far more intriguing than the vicious woes of Stella and the pathetic martyr of Tara, is Cam’s stance that she doesn’t want children and the way the plot forms around that.
Yet even this isn’t great. Because of Cam’s high-profile status, there’s another issue I have with this book. Now, I know it has humour and seems to be pitched around the ‘beach read’ category. But none of these women seem real. Cam’s celebrity means she has an amazing house and loads of money and can do what she wants. Tara’s doing alright too. Stella’s got a paid-off flat in London and enough inheritance that she seems to be doing alright, too. There’s nothing about the women who have to work three jobs to make ends meet for their children. The woman choosing at the beginning of her career not to have children, instead of when she’s a global success. The representations of those who do have children and husbands and are just living their lives seem poor and unfair, to say the least. The male characters in general are pretty poor and unfairly represented. Don’t get me started on the closeted gay guy storyline …
It just doesn’t work for me.
I have bashed this quite a bit, so let me end on a high note. There were parts I really enjoyed, and sections of Tara’s story did make me laugh out loud. And, as I’ve said, Cam’s story throughout was the best part, and I just wish there’d been more to it – it could’ve stood on it’s own, with some more fleshing out, in fact.
So, there’s that. What have you all read lately that just didn’t live up to your expectations? And what’s the one character you’ve just hated more than any other? As always, let me know, down below!