Book 13 – Poor Cow by Nell Dunn


From my niece’s bookshelves (she was kind enough to give up her room to me for the weekend; the least I can do is highlight that she owns a very respectable book collection for someone a few weeks short of her 18th birthday).

This is a short novel about a young working class woman called Joy, living in London in the mid sixties. It’s supposed to be a story portraying the big hearted, tolerant, grab-your-fun-while-you-can stereotype of the urban poor. But I found it depressing as Joy’s horizons are so limited.

Her life (with the exception of the care she gives to her baby son) has no real purpose, and Joy knows it. Her husband Tom is a thief, in and out of prison, selfish and occasionally violent.

She takes up with his mate, Dave and they enjoy a genuinely happy phase, setting up home and taking camping holidays. But Dave is also a thief and eventually gets banged up for twelve years.

So Joy is left to fend for herself, and slips into a life of giving sexual favours for gifts and sometimes money. I think this is supposed to portray a sexually liberated woman, but it doesn’t come across like that because Joy is continually unhappy.

Nell Dunn came from an upper class background; she and her husband chose to live in a Battersea council estate in the 60s (he wrote “Cathy Come Home”). So I expect the people and events described in “Poor Cow” are grounded in reality. But it’s still depressing.


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