Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney

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Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney

Sweeney Owl.jpg
Buy Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The sort of story that creeps up on us until we're totally, wonderfully enveloped: a touching, beautiful tale of love and the fight for the hardest type of forgiveness – forgiving yourself
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Legend Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1785079672

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Maeve Maloney runs the Sea View Lodge guest house that her parents ran before her. The house has harboured many memories for Maeve over the past 80-years-plus, most of which she's managed to keep at bay. However, her suppression is endangered when Vincent comes to call. Far from being an ordinary guest, Vincent is a link to that past Maeve thought she'd outrun but now has to relive. Add that to trying to teach Steph and Len to fib effectively and life becomes very difficult indeed.

British author Emma Claire Sweeney is a regular name on award short lists, including The Guardian's 'Not the Booker Prize' list for 2016. It's no surprise that it's Owl Song at Dawn taking her there in this case as it demonstrates undeniable talent mixed with inspiration from her sister. Emma's sister has autism which provides the insider knowledge complementing the creation of a wonderfully unusual B&B.

The elderly and strong-willed Maeve has always opened her doors to people with disabilities, as evidenced by the guests we encounter. (This includes some memorable moments and smiles with, rather than at the expense of, the choir for people with autism.) On the service side of the business Maeve counts on residential 'help' Steph and Len. Everyone gets on well (at least till Vince turns up), Maeve just needing to enforce a standard or two occasionally. In fact Steph and Len get on a little too well which could cause problems. In Maeve's eyes both are capable of falling in love and having a relationship but, due to their Downs Syndrome, others' attitudes differ.

Indeed, attitudes to people with disabilities, the way ideas have changed over time and the consequences loom large as we travel between modern times and the 1940s, 50s and 60s. We're taken back to Maeve's childhood, life with her twin sister Edie and the struggle that punctuated her love-drenched family home. As Edie was a Downs child (or mongoloid as it was then) their parents' expectations of Edie's life seem perfectly natural today and yet at the time… Let's just say if you've never shouted at a book before, this may be the time to start!

Emma ensures that, as we drift into the story and experience the past vignettes peppering the current action, we fall in love with the people she sets before us. It draws us in gradually, as we remain unaware of the shocks that are going to be revealed. Once they surface, we marvel at Maeve's strength. She's no saint; I yelled at her as well as at the book but also cried, gasped and giggled.

In fact Emma mixes the bitter and the sweet in a way that ambushes us. For instance it's funny to watch Maeve subtly drill black-and-white-with-no-shades-of-grey Steph and Len in what they can and can't say to their key worker. Then among the giggles the fact that it has to be done in order for them to have what we take for granted hits our awareness like a train.

At the end it's Maeve's voice we remember along with Edie's chirped paragraphs of snippets and sayings that made her Edie. We grow to love Vince too but these twins are what makes this book such a rich tapestry of many colours and textures. Intertwined in Emma's creative stitching is an almost subliminal dual message that Edie, Len and Steph write on our imaginations. Firstly we're gently led to the conclusion there is no such thing as disabled people, just people with disabilities (an important difference). Secondly, it seems that their greatest disability is the way that society perceives and treats them. A sobering thought.

(A huge thank you to the folks at Legend for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals, we also recommend another tale of guests wreaking havoc and, by coincidence, another on the aforementioned Guardian prize list: Fell by Jenn Ashworth.

Buy Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney at Amazon.com.

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