Elsie Bovary is a cow and a pretty happy one at that. Until one night, Elsie sneaks out of the pasture and finds herself drawn to the farmhouse. Through the window, she sees the farmer’s family gathered around a bright Box God – and what the Box God reveals about something called an ‘industrial meat farm’ shakes Elsie’s understanding of her world to its core.
The only solution? To escape to a better, safer world. And so a motley crew is formed: Elsie; Shalom, a grumpy pig who’s recently converted to Judaism; and Tom, a suave turkey who can’t fly, but can work an iPhone with his beak. Toting stolen passports and slapdash human disguises, they head for the airport …
Elsie is a wise-cracking, slyly witty narrator; Tom dispenses psychiatric advice in a fake German accent; and Shalom ends up unexpectedly uniting Israelis and Palestinians. David Duchovny’s charismatic creatures point the way toward a mutual understanding and acceptance the world desperately needs.
The author of Holy Cow doesn’t really need an introduction, does he? Especially for all my fellow geeks who grew up on X-Files (Mulder <3’s Scully 4EVA!). But I was rather surprised when I was handed the proof copy for Holy Cow with the comment that David Duchovny had written it. I didn’t even knew he wrote! It turns out that Holy Cow is his debut novel and it is a solid debut. It is also very much a book that either works for you or it doesn’t. It approaches some serious real world issues through a humorous lens and its success will depend on whether you can appreciate Duchovny’s – by way of Elsie’s voice – sense of humour and the stances he takes on the issues he addresses.
While at times Duchovny laid it on rather thickly, I found Holy Cow quite funny. It’s very punny and quite self-aware, making fun of itself and the publishing business. Elsie keeps interjecting comments about how her editor wanted her to change certain passages to make the book more palatable to a larger audience. Elsie’s voice is distinctive and she was a rather down-home cow. I really enjoyed her character and the way she told her story. She doesn’t go on her adventure alone though, she’s accompanied by two of her farm mates, Tom the turkey and Shalom the pig. I found both of them quite entertaining, especially smooth-talking Tom, but at times they also made me wince. This is mostly down to Shalom. Holy Cow might be offensive to some, as it features some fairly heavy-handed stereotypes, especially in Shalom, who spouts Yiddish at random. Duchovny is an equal opportunity offender, poking fun at everyone and everything, yet Shalom’s characterisation made me a little uncomfortable.
For me the best thing about Holy Cow were the interactions between Elsie, Tom and Shalom. I loved the inventiveness of these three as they manage to get themselves across the globe and the way they have each other’s backs. Duchovny takes his protagonists full circle, yet giving them the chance to follow their dreams and become more than they were. Over the course of their journey, Elsie, Tom, and Shalom all realise that what they held to be true about themselves and the world should maybe be turned just a little and be looked at in a different light—as Tom tells Joe the Camel (yes, that Joe the Camel) in Israel, they are in need of ‘ze paradigm shift’. The other element that stood out were the interior illustrations done by Natalya Balnova who also drew the cover. They were charming and funny and a great addition to the narrative.
In the relatively slim novel that is Holy Cow, Duchovny touches upon animal rights, humanity’s innate need to divide into ‘us vs. them’-camps and to feel superior to others, and concludes that perhaps the biggest animals are humans themselves. Yet he does so with a wink and a smile, letting a spoonful of sugar help the medicine go down; Elsie never gets overly preachy to her audience. Holy Cow is very much a ‘your mileage may vary’-book, as I think you either enjoy it or you don’t depending on whether you connect to the humour in the book. I did and I had a lot of fun with the novel. It made me chuckle out loud, but it also made me think. This modern day dairy tale is well worth giving a try.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.