When I first started reading Owl Song at Dawn, I was afraid it was going to be one of those quirky, feel-good novels that I’m coming to dislike. Fortunately, it turned out to have more depth than that.
Maeve is a woman in her eighties who owns the Sea View Lodge, a lodging house in a small seaside town in the south of England. Her policy has been to welcome guests with disabilities, and she provides a full-time residence for Stephanie, a young woman with Down Syndrome. Dot, the mother of Steph’s best friend Len, who also has Down Syndrome, is working with a social worker to arrange a home there for Len, because Dot is dying. A potential problem, at least for the authorities, is caused because Steph and Len consider themselves boyfriend and girlfriend.
Maeve’s memories are sent back to her adolescence and young adulthood by the arrival of Vince Roper, who has come to patch up their differences. Vince was her good friend when she was young. With her twin sister, Edie, who had severe disabilities, they made a threesome until Maeve began dating Frank. Then a series of tragedies culminated in Frank leaving Maeve at the altar. Maeve has always blamed this on Vince and has never understood why Frank left her.
This story is told nonsequentially with interjections by Edie, who is always with Maeve in spirit.
Although I felt there were some points where Maeve was inordinately obtuse and on the other hand where problems were cleared up too easily, I ultimately found this novel touching. The reasons that Maeve was angry with Vince for so long are flimsy, though, and she has brooded over them for so long that you’d think she would have figured out the truth, which is obvious, long ago. Her own perception that she has been shutting herself off from others for years is laughable, given her living situation.
These are small, niggling faults, though. Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It is touching without going too far, and it does a great job of showing us the loving personalities of its disabled characters. On the other hand, I see that it is on the long list for the Not the Booker Prize (for which you can vote this week from this link). I’m not sure how books get on this list, but I don’t really think this is a prize-winning novel. My favorite book on that list (although I have not read many of them) is Rush, Oh! by Shirley Barrett, which I will be reviewing in the next couple of weeks.