My local book club had a theme this year of reading books from around the world. I selected this one for our November read as it won a major award- the International Booker Prize for works translated into English, in this case from the Dutch, and I read a review article that really sold it. The young non-binary author had drawn on their own childhood in a strictly religious dairy farming family, which I could personally relate to. My book club buddies were also keen.
I really struggled with this book. I expected grim. I expected grief, as the reviews I read were clear about the central arc of the story, a family dealing with the loss of a child with the protagonist, young Jas, having her own personal reason to blame herself for God taking her brother. I was repelled by the bodily grossness of much of the children’s increasingly disturbed behaviour, but I soldiered on, small chunks at a time, not wanting to let my book club down.
In the end it was the treatment of animals that I couldn’t take any more. Casual cruelty. Childish magical thinking cruelty. Tragically necessary cruelty. It was getting worse, and with the direction of the story, even worse was sure to come.
When I met with my book club, none of us had finished it. I’d made it the furthest at 70 per cent. But we all agreed that this was an important writer, a brilliant writer. We all want to read the next thing they write, but none of us plan to finish this book.
So be warned. This book was too much for me, and may be too much for you. But for those who can take it, believe the hype – a beautifully written, emotionally powerful work with plenty of important things to say about grief, family, religion and cows. “… no one stood a chance against the cows anyway; they were always more important.”