We’re big fans of Dawn O’Porter, that’s why we sponsored her Get It On podcast last year, and also why when we heard she’d written her first novel, we pre-ordered a copy (or three) immediately. It’s out in shops now and we asked lifestyle writer, Lizzie Lunn to tell us what she thinks.
A piece of meat, born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd… But women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.
Dawn O’ Porter’s latest novel, The Cows, follows three women, Tara, Cam and Stella, each navigating their way through life as mid-thirties women. We learn about the challenges they face, from dating to motherhood, in work and health, all the while witnessing how they deal with the expectations society places upon them. It’s smart, funny and sassy but, above all, it teaches us a lesson… Don’t follow the herd.
As a mid-thirties woman myself, I not only massively enjoyed O’ Porter’s first venture into adult fiction, but also hugely related to it. The three main characters are Tara, a single mother with a very successful career in TV production; Cam, a highly prominent lifestyle blogger renowned for her feminist point of view; Stella, a PA who has lost both her sister and mother to cancer. We all probably know someone who has experienced something on a par with one of these women but, me, I most related to Cam – and not just because I blog myself and have a tendency to proclaim that I don’t need a man in order to feel fulfilled. I doubt that any woman could read this book and not see herself in some way; be it who she is, who she used to be, or someone she feels she may become in the future.
As women today, we live in interesting times. From political protests to fashion runway collections, feminism and a woman’s place in society are hugely topical issues. If you’re a woman in your mid-thirties, likes the characters here, you’ve probably been brought up with the promise that the world is your oyster and you can have it all: but what I loved about this book is the way it puts a microscope on this ideal.
Motherhood and a career? Great, but The Cows depicts the reality – for some – of making that decision. It looks at how issues beyond our control can also take such decisions out of our hands. And it also makes plain that not every woman necessarily wants to ‘have it all’. It’s a novel, and poetic licence is employed to keep us entertained, but every one of these characters is relatable and real.
While I understood what the book was trying to do, it also kept me guessing. Again, not to input a spoiler, but there was one point where I literally came over all ‘girl from The Exorcist’; head spinning around in shock. For me personally, my favourite parts are hard to relay without revealing key plot lines, but I will say that while the character I related most to was Cam, my favourite was Tara.
This is a woman who goes through something that can only be described as my worst nightmare – but it’s funny as hell. She experiences a public shaming due to her actions, something that today’s world of social media all too easily allows, and yet for the most part she stays strong and defiant. I’m Cam, but wish I was Tara. (When you get to the end of the novel, you’ll understand why on more levels than one!) As for Stella, through her we see not just how the godforsaken C word can take away the people we love, but also how those left behind can suffer just as much.
I think every woman should read this book. For those of us in our mid-thirties, it stands to reason that The Cows will resonate, and so I’ll certainly be recommending it to all my friends. First up though, I’m lending it to my mother; a woman thirty years my senior. I know she’ll laugh out loud at Tara, see her daughter in Cam and sympathise with the plight of Stella.
I think it’s important to highlight that these women, while strangers at the outset, are all intrinsically linked by the story’s conclusion. Indeed, whether it’s my mother, one of my best friends or the woman who lives two doors down, The Cows is a humour-filled way to bring us all together. It reminds us all that it’s ok to screw up a bit. It’s not wrong if we want to date multiple guys yet raise zero children, and it’s also perfectly fine to not want the same things as each other. In short: we don’t need to follow the herd.