Cowan, Andrew 1960-

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COWAN, Andrew 1960-

PERSONAL: Born 1960, in Corby, Northamptonshire, England; married Lynne Bryan (a writer); children: Rose. Education: Attended Beanfield Comprehensive and University of East Anglia.

ADDRESSES: HomeEast Anglia, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Sceptre/Hodder Headline, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH, England. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Novelist. Worked variously as a postal worker, oral historian, cleaner in a cake factory, and chartered librarian.

AWARDS, HONORS: Betty Trask Award, Ruth Hadden Memorial Award, Author's Club First Novel Award, Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, Scottish Arts Council Book Award, and John Steinbeck Award shortlist, all for Pig; Scottish Arts Council bursary, 1996, for Common Ground; Eastern Arts Board bursary, 2000, for Crustaceans.



Pig, M. Joseph (London, England), 1994, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1996.

Common Ground, M. Joseph (London, England), 1996, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

Crustaceans, Sceptre (London, England), 2000, Picator USA (New York, NY), 2002.

ADAPTATIONS: Film rights to Pig were purchased by director Mike Leigh, 1996.

SIDELIGHTS: English novelist Andrew Cowan is acclaimed for his award-winning 1994 debut Pig, the winner of a number of major writing awards. Among his other novels are Common Ground and Crustaceans.

Pig details one summer in the life of fifteen-year-old Danny, whose grandmother dies, leaving an ailing husband—who is promptly moved into a nursing home—and a pig, whose well-being becomes the focus of the boy's life. Making daily visits to the grandparents' abandoned cottage on the edge of a decaying English industrial town, Danny and his Sikh girlfriend, Surinder, care for the animal and escape the stifling atmosphere and racist harassment that characterizes life in town.

Jay A. Fernandez in the Boston Review rated Pig "a very tender coming-of-age story that reads like a quiet memoir." In a review in the New York Times Book Review, James Saynor noted: "On the surface the story is stark and static. But beneath that surface are simmering energies, inklings of the whole rich canvas of life." In particular, Saynor praised Cowan's prose, which he described as "plain as a pikestaff, earnestly fixed on the physical world." However, he continued, "his minimalism is not of the frozen or portentous type. From the title onward, the book's matter-offactness has an oddly penetrating quality. The author's dispassionate gaze carries with it great compassion." Overall, Saynor found Pig to be "a novel about inarticulateness and confusion that could not itself be more direct and sure." In the view of Boyd Tonkin, writing in New Statesman, "Cowan writes with a deeply impressive grace and economy…. [His] fine brush-strokes broaden the picture to embrace everyday racism, the end of an industrial society, the erosion of family life." David Buckley, who reviewed Pig in the Observer, appraised the novel as "a wholly satisfying book, quietly beautiful and inescapably ominous." Publishers Weekly critic Sybil Steinberg opined that Pig is "a simple tale, made moving and memorable by Cowan's beautifully restrained prose."

In Common Ground Cowan utilized the epistolary form to combine themes of family life and political activism in the story of Ashley and Jay, a young English couple whose values are challenged through parenthood. The story unfolds through letters from Ashley to his vagabond brother who is traveling around the world. The correspondence details Jay's pregnancy and the first months of the new baby's life along with the couple's growing involvement in the movement to stop development in a local woodland. Phil Baker, critiquing Common Ground in the Times Literary Supplement, stated that the author's "observation is superb throughout. His ear is also unfailingly good, whether he's catching newer speech patterns … or the diction of middle-aged ignorance." Baker maintained, however, that despite these strengths, "Common Ground can be dull reading. Ashley's character, as it comes across in his letters, is marked by an irritating dud wit…. Heis, tobeblunt, a bore." In conclusion, Baker warned that "highly gifted, Cowan risks becoming a prisoner of his own genius for the ordinary." Peter Whittaker, reviewing Common Ground in the New Statesman, observed that the book was somewhat flawed due to the fact that "both plot and characters falter under the weight of the emblematic and interpretive baggage they are required to carry." But the critic had praise for other aspects of the work, in particular "the freshness and authenticity of the writing; a grounding of accurate observation that underpins even the most mundane detail." Eric Robbins in Booklist described the novel as a "quietly intriguing story about finding one's place in the world."

In Crustaceans Cowan tells the story of Paul, who is driving to a small seaside English town where his son, Euan, died. Along the way, Paul also journeys through his memories of a suicidal mother, a failed marriage, and the beloved son he has lost. Michael Upchurch in the New York Times believed that the novel "with reasonable care but few surprises, pulls (and sometimes drags) the reader through realms of anguished bereavement and rampant family animosity." A critic for Publishers Weekly found that "the reader's attention is captured not so much by one significant moment as by the narrative's accumulated force and momentum, which, as in life, overwhelms and makes this book memorable and engrossing." "This novel," Elsa Gaztambide claimed in Booklist, "is a journey through sadness, ironically awakening a bittersweet yearning to embrace life."



Booklist, September 15, 1996, Deanna Larson, review of Pig, p. 219; September 1, 1997, Eric Robbins, review of Common Ground, p. 56; February 15, 2002, Elsa Gaztambide, review of Crustaceans, p. 990.

Boston Review, June 21, 1996, review of Pig.

Guardian (London, England), August 10, 2002, Andrew Cowan, "From Flop to Top: How the Fickle Hand of Publishing Finally Gave Andrew Cowan the Thumbs Up," p. 25.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of Crustaceans, p. 7.

Library Journal, July, 1996, Paul E. Hutchison, review of Pig, p. 156; June 15, 1997, review of Common Ground, p. 96.

Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Crustaceans, p. R15.

New Statesman, September 2, 1994, Boyd Tonkin, review of Pig, p. 40; May 17, 1996, Peter Whittaker, review of Common Ground, pp. 40-41.

New York Times, April 7, 2002, Michael Upchurch, review of Crustaceans, p. 16.

New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1996, review of Pig, p. 9.

Observer (London, England), August 14, 1994, p. 20.

People, November 25, 1996, Paula Chin, review of Pig, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1996, Sybil Steinberg, review of Pig, p. 62; July 21, 1997, review of Common Ground, p. 182; January 21, 2002, review of Crustaceans, p. 62.

Times Literary Supplement, May 31, 1996, Phil Baker, review of Common Ground, p. 23.


Contemporary Writers, (November 6, 2003), "Andrew Cowan."*