Kirsty Eyre’s Cow Girl is the wonderfully warm and witty debut novel from the winner of last year’s inaugural Comedy Women in Print Prize.
When her father falls ill, Billie returns home to the Yorkshire farm which she left behind for life in London. The transition back to country lass from city girl isn’t easy, not least because leaving London means leaving her relationship with Joely Chevalier, just as it was heating up.
And when she gets to Yorkshire, Billie’s shocked to discover the family dairy farm is in dire straits – the last thing Billie expected was a return to the life of a farmer but it isn’t long before she’s up at 5am with manure up to her wellies.
Battling misogyny, homophobia and some very unpredictable dairy cows, Billie must find a way to keep the cows happy, save the farm and save herself…
Putting your dreams on hold while leaving behind your friends and an exciting new love interest to head north to the family dairy farm when your father becomes ill might not sound like the most promising start to a comic novel but Kirsty Eyre makes it work incredibly well here. She teases out the humour in Billie’s sudden change of circumstances, balancing it against all the tears and frustration that go alongside it.
Kirsty Eyre strikes a deft balance throughout Cow Girl while dealing with such issues as misogyny and homophobia, the loss of one parent, the illness of another, and the very real challenges facing dairy farmers. And it’s one achieved in large part thanks to her likeable protagonist Billie and the way in which she navigates each obstacle and setback she comes up against. You can’t help but warm to Billie and wish her success in her endeavours, while wondering how she’s going to square her academic life in London with working out what to do with the family farm and having a relationship.
The secondary characters in Cow Girl are well drawn. I especially warmed to Billie’s dad and gran; their relationships with each other are something special. As are those with her circle of London friends who support and care for her in the best way they know how. I also loved the sparring between Billie and the vet, and their pantomime cow obstacle race was one of my favourite funny moments in the entire book. I still giggle when I think about it, even now months since first reading Cow Girl.
There are less likeable figures at play here too: Billie has to do battle against the local landowner and with some of the other dairy farmers and farm hands if she’s ever to find her voice and earn their respect and her title. All while suffering from her own feelings of inadequacy and failure.
No review of Cow Girl would be complete without mentioning a very special group of ladies—the herd of dairy cows which Billie rushes home to look after. They are quite the characters. It was such fun getting to know them all, their names and individual personalities, how that played into and affected herd life, as well as deciding which of them would go to Leeds, and why. One of my personal favourites surprised me with her weakness for Dorothy Perkins, which, let’s face it, we’ve all had at some point in our lives.
For something refreshingly different, balancing serious subjects with funny situations, I can recommend Cow Girl. Unsurprisingly, it’s a worthy, witty winner from CWIP 2019 and a good debut novel from Kirsty Eyre.
Cow Girl by Kirsty Eyre is published today in paperback by Harper Collins. It’s also available as an audiobook and in ebook. You can find Kirsty on her Facebook Page or on Instagram or on Twitter. You can read our Q&A here.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.