Before I start this review I feel that I should disclose something: “I love Dawn”. I have done for many years. I have even forgiven her for the fact that she grew up on the wrong Channel Island. I live on Jersey, Dawn grew-up on Guernsey, and it’s fair to say that there is a rivalry between the two islands ;-).
Dotty For Dawn O’Porter
Why do I idolise Dawn so much? Well, she is funny, self-deprecating, talented and with a fashion sense to die for, quite frankly I border on the stalker side when it comes to Dawn. I once even asked for my hair to be cut like hers. Sadly, I didn’t look cool and stylish like Dawn, I resembled Pob on a bad day. Dawn seems to be riding the cusp of success right now. She has worked hard and is now reaping the rewards. Dawn was once known for making edgy and revealing documentaries, she has now evolved into an author. Is there no end to her talents?
The Cows By Dawn O’Porter
I must stop with the embarrassing barrage of compliments and move onto the novel, The Cows. This is the third book I have been sent for the Mumsnet Book Club and I was nervous about reading this novel. I had previously read Dawn’s Young Adult novels and had loved them but was worried about how she would make that transition to adult. I needn’t have worried. This novel well and truly proves that Dawn is an author for adults too. The Cows came at the right time for me. Lately, I have been struggling with my blog and social media and, as a result, I have found myself questioning my love for blogging. Social media is a funny ol’ beast and it only takes one misconstrued tweet for you to end up a villain. This is something that is explored in the novel.
We have three strong but all very different women in the novel, and we follow their stories separately until they finally interweave. We have Tara, a documentary maker and mum to Annie. We see her struggling with juggling her career and being a mum to her daughter. We also witness how one ill-judged action causes her whole life to fall apart. I won’t ruin it by sharing what she is caught doing but it made my toes curl and made me hide behind my cushion. Trust me when I say that it’s probably not something you want going viral and it’s also not something that you want your dad watching. However, it raises lots of interesting questions. How we as humans can be extremely hypocritical, how we can be quick to judge someone without knowing the whole picture. It makes me wonder if social media has actually made us less social and more judgmental. Instead of bringing us together, is social media actually helping to make society more divisive? I’m not sure of the answer but it did make me think about how social media can have a massive impact on our lives. We have recently had a classic example of this with Toby Young, who recently lost his job because of two poorly judged tweets that he sent out years ago. I’m no fan of Toby Young but it’s scary when one moment in time might be mistakenly shared on social media and cause you to lose your job.
As a result of Tara’s actions that are captured and shared across the globe, she loses her job and her whole life falls apart as a result. However, don’t despair because she does manage to claw back her life and we finish the novel with Tara in a much better place on lots of levels but I won’t reveal why.
Social Media Sass
The second character is the strong-willed and sassy business woman Cam, founder of a lifestyle blog. She’s not afraid to say what she really thinks and we see her questioning the hypocrisy of the media. She is the only person who offers Tara support and she is the only one who shows her public support too. Through Cam we see how exhausting and relentless her life is, and how unrelenting it can be for a woman living her life under the glare of the media. Cam comes under fire when she declares that she doesn’t want to have children. Again, it raises interesting questions about how people feel they have the right to say to a woman what she should do with her body and how labels and expectations are imposed on a woman. It seems that being a woman will always constantly lead you to feel like your motives and actions are being questioned and judged. We also see how the media likes to pit women against each other. Cam sees this and tries to show women everywhere that we should be uniting and not letting society dictate how we act.
Tara and Cam develop the type of friendship that women everywhere need. They are loyal, supportive and never judgmental of each other’s actions. There is a shocking twist that causes this friendship to end abruptly. I won’t reveal what it is but it is a stark reminder of how quickly life can change. We should never take anything for granted.
Unravelling And Trolling
Finally, the last character is Stella and out of all the characters she is the one I struggled to get on with. However, this is where Dawn has been clever. We don’t warm to Stella straightaway because we feel so frustrated by some of her actions, but we grow to understand her . At the beginning she is prickly and keeps her guard up. We struggle to relate to her because she won’t let anyone in. That’s because underneath she is frightened and grieving. We follow her story as she too slowly unravels and becomes more and more obsessed with the idea of having children, as a result her actions become increasingly unhinged. This causes Stella to start trolling Cam when Cam announces on her blog that she doesn’t want children.
Stella has been told that she is a carrier of the BRCA gene. She has already lost her mother and twin sister to cancer, and now she has been told that she needs to have her womb removed and a full mastectomy. Stella goes on a mission to have a child by any means as she wants to leave a legacy.
Are The Men Believable?
A slight criticism of this book might be that the men in it seem one dimensional. Cam’s younger boyfriend is essentially her friend with benefits and as such we don’t really get to know him. But, I guess this is the point. Cam keeps him at a distance emotionally as she is only using him for one thing. I also found Stella’s boss, Jason, infuriating. He seemed easily led and slightly fickle at times. I would have liked to have learnt more about Cam’s dad as there were hints of a complex man who changed himself for Cam’s mum. I wanted to know more about his motivations.
This book touches on so many complex issues regarding women and their place in society, yet it is a really easy book to read. At first, I struggled a little with the flicking between characters but as I got to know the characters I was able to distinguish their voices clearly.
A Feisty Feminist Read
This is a fantastic feisty feminist novel that every woman needs to read. I love that we have three strong women, yet they aren’t presented as perfect, they are all flawed and they all make mistakes. The important lesson to take away from this book is that none of us are perfect, we all have days where something goes wrong but we should never let one mistake shape our future. We have to fight for the future we want, not the one we feel we should settle for. We should never follow the herd.
It’s time to find our own voice.
The Cows by Dawn O’Porter is available to buy from Amazon.co.uk
Disclaimer – please be aware that I was gifted this novel as I am working with the Mumsnet Book Club. However, all words, opinions and images are my own.