The Cows, Dawn O’Porter

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Photograph showing the book cover of 'The Cows' by Dawn O'Porter, with a picture of yellow lips with a finger held to them, with yellow nail varnished, all against a black background.

An entertaining romp which raises some interesting questions about the lives of modern women

Dawn O’Porter’s latest foray into the world of the novel provides and accessible take on some thought-provoking issues. Teh title and tagline ‘don’t follow the herd’ introduce the central theme of the novel: the roles society expects women to play, and the ways they choose to break out of them. With three main characters, the novel jumps about between them, in first and third person, each representing a different approach to the key issue running through the novel, that of motherhood. Without getting into spoiler territory, we are shown three women with very different stances on motherhood: one accidental mother who loves it, one woman who does not want to be a mother at all, and one who desperately wants to be a mother but may not be able to. There is nothing particularly mindblowing about choosing this trio, but O’Porter deftly weaves their stories with pragmatism, humour and insight. Despite sometimes doing some rather unbelievable things, the characters themselves are realistic and relatable.

O’Porter deftly weaves their stories with pragmatism,
humour and insight

The novel is topical in its consideration of the internet in policing women and their lives, and how it can in turn be used by women to shape their image. One of our women makes her living exclusively from blog writing and its associated sponshorship (I wish!), and the pressures that she feels to produce content that reflects how she wants to be seen feel very relevant. All that was missing was the accompanying millions of Instagram followers for her to feel like someone we see all over the internet today.

There were perhaps times when the novel was a little ‘feminism-lite’; the blogger served as the mouthpiece for much of the feminist thought, and her approach was not always a very nuanced one. But this was presented more as part of her character than coming across as a straight expression of O’Porter’s own feminism. It is very ‘on trend’ to be feminist, we are living through the commercialisation and capitalist commodification of female empowerment, and it is easy to see this novel fit into that culture. It is also easy to read novels as straightforwardly autobiographical (this is particularly an issue int he critiquing of women’s writing), a trap which should be aboided wherever possible. But, though its range is limited, The Cows discusses some interesting ideas around the idea of motherhood and societal expectations of what motherhood should look like, and for that it must be praised. Pair that with pleasant wirting, an utterly unpredictable twist, and some genuinely funny moments, and you have quite a satisfying, if reasy to read, nobel to get you through a long bus journey on a dark winter night. Just remember to learn from the characters, and be careful what you get up to on the tube.

Have you read The Cows, or any other of O’Porter’s writing? What did you think? And what do you recommend I read next? Let me know in the comments below!

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