by Alan Garner
This is a strange story. It's based on a Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd, about a woman magically made from flowers to be one man's wife, while falling in love with another- murder results, and a curse, and she gets turned into an owl. In The Owl Service, this legend is perpetually re-enacted (in a way) by further generations. Three children get involved when one of them discovers some plates hidden in the rafters- a "dinner service" patterned with flowers. The girl sees owls in the pattern, and when she traces them, paper owls flit about, later mysteriously disappearing. She gets obsessed with obtaining more plates to trace from, while the housekeeper is just as adamant about keeping the children from getting ahold of the plates, or finding out more about them. There's a lot more going on- mysterious lights in the woods, odd noises, people acting strangely. It's all rather creepy, really.
But hard to follow. In the first place, it's nearly all told in dialogue, without any explanation of who's who, so it took a while for me to figure out how the children were related to each other- two are step-siblings, the third is the housekeeper's son, and why certain ones felt superior to, or resentful towards, the others. The same kind of interactions occur among the adults, with just as little explanation. The dialog is crafty, feels very real, but at the same time has gaps. For instance, some characters speak Welsh, others English, but there's never any indication of that until you realize one person didn't understand what someone else said- halfway through the conversation! Aside from that, even once I'd figured out the myth that was being re-lived by these kids, it still didn't make much sense, and the ending was a muddle. It does have a very vivid feel, though- I at once thought of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, and of National Velvet (not sure why) and overall it leaves the reader with a very unsettling feeling. I enjoyed reading the book while I was still trying to figure out what was going on, but then it got tiresome. I'm wondering now if Alan Garner's other books are just as eerie, and inexplicable? Anyone read more?
I got this book at a library sale, it caught my eye because I remembered seeing a review at Things Mean a Lot. The second image is what my book looks like without its dust jacket- silver pattern on the cover (of the plate). I can see the owl's face, but not how the rest of the image would fit together...
Rating: 3/5 ........ 201 pages, 1967
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