How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster

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How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster

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Buy How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: An interesting and well-crafted concept that doesn't quite live up to what it promises.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 304 Date: February 2017
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-1784702304

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Seeking to escape her past, Tara has left London, resettling way up north in Cumbria where no-one knows her. She quickly settles into an anonymous, unexciting life, observed only by Nancy, her elderly neighbour who begins to develop an odd obsession with her. Meanwhile, her three childhood friends are baffled by her disappearance, and resolve to get back in touch with her.

If, like me, you read that last paragraph expecting to get a dark, twisty, nerve-tingling thriller, much less a whodunit, you might find yourself disappointed. How to Measure A Cow is an interesting character study, but it doesn't offer much in the way of incident. And while that fact doesn't make it a bad book exactly, it does make for a slightly frustrating reading experience.

Perhaps I expected too much. My quick-fire reaction was to assume that Nancy's obsession with Tara was something sinister, but it quickly becomes apparent that it isn't, really; it's a product of being a lonely old woman with very little to talk about. Early on it's established that Tara did something bad, something that affected her so badly it forced her to leave – it's not made immediately clear what, but enough for her to have spent time in prison. But we never really get anything concrete about what took place – when the book finally tells us, the reveal falls flat because of the lack of context. The book is full of little anti-climaxes like this, moments that seem to peak but never do. And yet I kept waiting for a twist that never came, something I felt sure would make everything I'd read so far pay off.

The novel, to its credit, is beautifully written. One thing I particularly liked is how well it plays up the London/rest of the country divide – a divide evident in the middle-class mannerisms of Tara's friends compared to the small-town gossiping of her neighbours, and the lingering assertion that a life in Cumbria would force her to be normal. There's something oddly admirable, too, about someone attempting to truly start their life over from scratch. Today, when anything you do online leaves digital traces, and you can find out everything there is to know about someone by Googling them, it's at least a little comforting to imagine that it's possible to disappear.

How to Measure a Cow is a strange sort of book, one that defies easy categorisation. If I had to sum I'd say it's not one for those who like their fiction pacey and nail-biting; it's more suited to the contemplative reader. But a good story needs something to grab and sustain my interest, and, sadly, I'm not sure this one did.

Other novels I can recommend in place of this one include The Unfriended by Jane McLoughlin (an effusively feminist Irish tale), Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney (a complex and mind-bending page-turner) or The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (a slow-building, emotionally resonant, and ultimately devastating read).

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Buy How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster at Amazon.com.

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