SECOND OPINION: How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster

Review published on July 14, 2016.

Tara Fraser (43) changes her name to Sarah Scott and moves from London to a small house in a quiet area in Cumbria. She takes a boring factory job and really keeps her head down – wears only dull grey, ties her hair back severely, no make-up, no jewellery, and makes no attempt to speak to her workmates – why?

Margaret Forster, one of my favourite Authors who sadly died in February 2016, does give us some clues as the book progresses. What did Tara/Sarah do 10 years ago? Where has she been since? Did her old friends keep in touch? What is her real personality?

This is really a book about loneliness and friendship and the possibility of becoming invisible. Can a person really change their personality and nature by taking on a new name/persona/outlook, or would we all revert to our old selves? Tara/Sarah is not a very likeable character – quite rebellious as Margaret Forster was herself when growing up – and her elderly neighbour Nancy, a widow and childless, tries to be friendly but not intrusive, but cannot make her out.

We do not read about the great mystery until near the end of the book.

The title I found unappealing – was it a farming book? In fact, I found the title played only a small part in the book when Nancy tells Tara/Sarah that she grew up on a farm and her father had told her how to measure a cow. Their farm had been compulsorily purchased to make room for Sellafield. I’m sure this was traumatic for Nancy and her parents, but didn’t really feature a lot in her chats with Tara/Sarah – both women always careful not to say too much.

While I enjoyed the book РMargaret Forster is excellent at painting the picture and her dialogue is always A1, I much preferred some of her earlier books from her extensive range such as Shadow Baby and her factual Hidden Lives.

Deirdre Spendlove 4/3

How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster



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