Holy Cow is a simple book. It is simple in its style, simple in its humour and most importantly of all simple in its truth telling about Man’s broken relationship with the animal kingdom and the natural world as a whole. Yet, despite this simplicity it is a difficult book to categorise. On the one hand it reads like a children’s book with its quirky animal voices and regular need for suspension of disbelief, but on the other it uses some forthright language and imagery to hit its mark on some pretty serious subject matter.
These blurred audience lines can be both its strength and its undoing. Having come to it just after reading Mark Boyle’s Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, which is a very serious wake up call to the problems of industrialised culture, it was quite nice to spend a little time in this slightly bonkers exploration of similar concerns. I have seen other readers frustrated by the tone though and can empathise with that view, especially the grating asides for “My Editor says…” and “note to the screenwriter”.
Elsie the Cow is living in ignorant bliss. Things are okay on the farm and she has never felt the need to question it, even if she doesn’t understand why her mother is no longer around she accepts that is the way it is. Then one day her world is torn apart when a chance encounter with a television screen makes the reality of farm life (and death) starkly apparent. As she seeks a better life, inspired by stories of sacred cows in India, she is joined by Shalom, a pig who is seeking sanctuary in revulsion, and Tom the Turkey, who surely wouldn’t be eaten in a country named after him.
The main protagonists are all endearingly drawn and their adventures whilst wholly unbelievable are fast paced and fun. They plan their escape and head off for an airport all dreaming of a new life that will save them from the despair that awaits the other farmed creatures. Despite getting over some of the more obvious hurdles that occur for three animals trying to travel as humans things do not exactly go to plan, but each of there are lessons to be learnt for all of them.
The pace of the writing and its spacious layout through 209 pages mean that it is a very quick read and that feels appropriate. This is a fable that will entertain whilst also pricking your conscience but if overdone would lose its impact. If it gets a few people thinking about how their lives impact on the wider world and questioning the accepted processes of our industrial civilisation, such as factory farming and environmental destruction, then it will have served a valuable purpose. But there is a danger that it will turn as many people off as on.