James and Freya Archer live in one of Sydney’s poshest suburbs. Together with their teenaged children, Cameron and Dylan, they live the good life surrounded by luxuries and everything money can buy. James has an executive position in a top firm, drives a Jaguar and wears Gucci silk ties. Freya works in real estate–not that she needs the sporadic commissions, as James’ corporate career allows her to enjoy weekly manicures and beauty salons, tanning sessions and $900 bags. Cameron and Dylan have the latest smartphones and laptops.
Yet, are they happy? Far from it.
The family is trapped in an endless cycle of “consumption without limits” where money and possessions have become dangerous obsessions rather than a means to happiness. The kids have no idea what money is, as if the coins and bills fall automatically from the sky. They waste food, throwing away platefuls and buying more:
“It was a consumption binge: an endless cycle of buy and chuck out.”
The kids, always hooked to their electronic gadgets, don’t even raise their eyes to greet their parents when they come from school, lost in their own virtual realities and always in a bad mood in spite of their ample allowances and all their latest goodies.
Freya is profoundly frustrated by her real estate job and by the fact that she must be a constant actress in order to pimp for houses. James, on the other hand, is constantly tortured by stress. He often complains of shoulder pain, headache, stomach upset. As if that isn’t enough, he drinks way too much alcohol on a daily basis. Freya knows that something is definitely wrong. She also knows she must do something before it’s too late.
The one day James suffers a nervous breakdown: depression, exhaustion, his hands and feet jerking spasmodically. He’s had a close call, but what will it be next time? A stroke? A heart attack?
What James and Freya crave is simplicity, going back to basics. What they crave is change. With this in mind, they decide to leave the city and all their luxuries and try their luck in a remote farmhouse in the peaceful island of Tasmania.
“Life was too short, and before you knew it, after a lifetime of putting off what matters, the family you love have grown and you’ve forgotten who you are…”
But will it work? What is real happiness? Is it a state of mind unrelated to location?
I really enjoyed reading this novel. I have been reading nothing but genre fiction lately, so this was definitely refreshing. Black Cow is the absorbing, moving story of a family trying to stay together in a world full of consumerism, a place devoid of spirituality and deep emotional connections. This is a tale that will make you pause and ponder about the quality of your own life. Ball writes with skilful perception and attention to human emotions and motivations. The characters, especially those of James and Freya, are deftly drawn, real people with fears and tribulations and especially, filled with contradictory feelings about what they think they want and what they need out of life. They’re devoid of idealism. Our society is a force that shapes us all, and Ball shows this through her characters, telling it as it is, with its own ugly realities. Most readers will identify with James and Freya and their predicament. I especially enjoyed Freya’s and James’ inner monologues and their takes on life. Ultimately, Black Cow gives us hope.
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