Today’s book in the slightly-more-intermittent-than-I’d-like first pages series is Cowgirl by G.R Gemin. For those of you who don’t know what this series is about, I have a look at the first pages of books and analyse just how they do what they do. You can look at the previous posts in the series here.
I have a lot of love for Cowgirl. I first came across it two years ago and read in a slightly feverish burst of joy. I’m revisiting it now as part of my PhD and I was so struck by the lovely first page that I had to share some of that with you. I love this book. It’s eccentric, delightful and lovely. And yes, I shall repeat that word a lot in what follows. Do be prepared!
The first thing to note about Cowgirl is that delciious, almost abstract black splodge on the top right of the page. It’s a brave thing to do, to give half of your first page to a design note, but I think it’s very vital for this book. It clearly echoes the notes of the front cover, that focus on the pattern of a cow’s skin, and starts to bring that inside the book. This design starts to show something very distinct about Cowgirl; there’s a heart to this book, and this book is about cows. Who they are, what they are, and what they come to mean. It’s all done quite unapologetically and quite unashamedly and quite brilliantly. It’s delightful. It’s brilliant. Cowgirl is a book that revels in its distinctness and so much of it is trapped in that delightful abstraction on the first page.
So! The text. I’m struck immediately by the first sentence: “I was screaming for my life.” Loud, sound-laden sentence that it is. Not – “I was running for my life” but rather, I was “screaming”. A vocal passivity. A contradiction. Unable to stop what is happening, but rather still trying somehow. Speaking up. Using your voice. And in its abstraction, it starts to signify something else about the book; that maybe this is about voices, and speaking up and being truthful to who you are regardless of the nature of the narratives that propel you.
It’s joined by a thick paragraph – quick, sensory developments, all of them with a sense of inevitability – until they’re stopped by that deliciously isolated, blunt, marvellous sentence of: “Then I heard a moo” The movement of this paragraph bought to such a definitive, flat halt by the presence of cows. Cows define this book and they’re all over it, even before we’ve reached the second page. I love that definitive, almost defiant air about Cowgirl. It is what it is, and it is rather brilliant.
The last bit to focus on is that little fragmentary “and I” at the end of the first page. I won’t tell you what happens, but I rather highlight it as being a beautiful – what if? moment. It’s the definition of a page turning moment; that niggling wonder in the back of your mind as you try and figure out what happens to that protagonist and just how, how the cows are involved. Because you know they are. You know that the cows are involved so madly in what happens in this book that they are part of what comes, they are embedded in what comes, and it’s just how…?
This is such a good first page. And a good book! A very good book. Moovellous, one might say. (I’m going to stop there, my cow based puns are all out….)