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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Linda Brooks Reviews Literary Novel Set in Australia

Black Cow
By Magdalena Ball
Published by BeWrite Books
Feb 2012, Genre: General Fiction
ISBN: 978-1927086469

Reviewed by Linda Brooks

In this cunningly crafted novel Magdalena Ball takes us to the heart of a family floundering on the brink of self destruction. And it is truly a destruction of self we are watching in painful clarity. The multitude of material goods that clutter their concrete lives is in direct contrast to the idealism and truth of their youth. It is a life they have first chosen, then drifted with, but is now surely choking the essence of their whole family. Magdalena has put a stark mirror to their lives. Freya and James are too close to see, but close enough to know fear. It takes time for this fear to have a name. Time for the lifestyle of the parents to implode on not only themselves, but their children.
Essentially, James and Freya are in a hell of their own choosing and as a reader we can palpate the pulse of the chaos of their lives. But for all their materialism and struggle, we can see shadows of their former, purer selves – and this compels us to hope for their redemption before they even begin to hope for themselves. These are not two people who we hope hit rock bottom, but we sense strongly that this is precisely the stimulus that will push these two out of the miasma of their illusory success. The disconnection of the family is terrifying. With each stroke Freya forces in the pool, and each entry of James into the boardroom as CEO, we sense life out of control, but we become invested in them. These are two people who have a growing sense of loss of self, and we tense with them as they gradually discard old ties and clear away the debris of what once was their sense of achievement and identity.
It is a shedding as painful as the decline, and the authenticity of their journey is never lost in glib phrases or overnight solutions. We see the courage of Freya as she battles her own connection with the material life she loves. We experience the raw terror of crossing the tight rope between old and new. Sometimes we flinch. Even as they cut the umbilical cord to their former selves, fresh revelations of are made and further unravelling is revealed, until Freya and Edward reach a point where we see a glimmer that the best is yet to be for this family. There will be no return to the dysfunction of the old. Reconnection with each other and their children will not be abandoned. We know this as we see both Freya and James glimpse the change in their children. The black cow becomes a symbol of their renewal.
There is an authenticity and honesty about the revelation of their characters and the torment of the children that is the inevitable collateral of a lifestyle that is decaying. And yet Ball doesn’t demonise the lifestyle, but skilfully reveals the people Freya and James had meant to become before they became lost. The dreams they let slip away, the hopes that died.
Secondary characters are deliberately peripheral. Their lives have become too shallow for real life, real connections. Ball peels back the layers of the relationship as she brings Freya and James back from the brink of their own carefully scripted disaster, giving hope in change to sustainable solutions for their lives, both environmental and emotional. It is a hope we cannot help but savour. A hope that compels us to re-examine our own lives and seek meaning, and the courage to sacrifice in order to live without compromise, or regret. To check the compass of our own yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.

~The author also wrote Sleep Before Evening and is the author of several books of poetry. She also runs The Compulsive Reader, www.compulsivereader.com.
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