Thursday, 14 July 2016

Review: Owl Song at Dawn - Emma Claire Sweeney

Emma Claire Sweeney’s Owl Song at Dawn introduces us to Maeve Maloney, a woman of nearly 80 who runs Sea View Lodge, catering largely to guests and staff with disabilities. This moving story traces Maeve’s reaction to the unexpected (and unwanted) arrival of an old friend, and these episodes of the present day are interspersed with passages from the past, filling in Maeve’s somewhat surreptitious past, memory by memory.

Whilst the novel is slow paced to begin with and there’s nothing fiercely gripping about the opening chapters, there is a gentleness about the language that wills you to continue turning the pages. This gentleness seems to come from both Maeve’s own compassion towards those immediately around her and from a nostalgic air that seeps into even the scenes in the present.

Though Maeve comes across as a little bitter and moany on first impressions, the more we learn of her past the more we forgive her present temperament and the guilt she has been holding in for all these years.

The focus of the novel is very much on Maeve’s twin sister, Edie, who had Down’s Syndrome and died many years earlier. Maeve’s whole life has been dedicated to her sister, whether this was caring for her when she was alive and protecting her from the harmful views of society or through her dedication to supporting those with similar disabilities through Sea View Lodge.

In fact, Maeve’s narrative is directly addressed to Edie throughout, and this along with the intermittent passages of Edie’s jumbled speech and favourite phrases effectively displays how Maeve’s collection of memories with Edie are both a comfort and a haunting reminder of her guilt-ridden conscience.

Sweeney really successfully addresses issues of stigma surrounding disabilities. During flashbacks to the past, she highlights the horrendous attitudes of society that towards those with Down’s Syndrome, most shockingly the approaches of those in the medical profession who tried to advise Edie’s parents on how to deal with her.

In the present day, Mauve’s livelihood is caring for others with disabilities, both as guests and staff at Sea View Lodge, and Sweeney demonstrates first-hand the life-changing effect that this care and love can have on individuals who are otherwise struggling with their disability.

Owl Song at Dawn is a truly touching story about family, loss, guilt, friendship and forgiveness, and the charming characters are those that stay with you long beyond the final pages of the book.

*I was sent this book in exchange for a review, but all words and opinions are my own. Affiliate links may have been used in this post.

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