SECOND OPINION: Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney

Review published on July 8, 2016.

Maeve Maloney is a force to be reckoned with. Despite nearing eighty, she keeps Sea View Lodge just as her parents did during Morecambe’s 1950s heyday. Only her employees and regular guests recognise the tenderness and heartbreak beneath her spikiness. Until, that is, Vincent shows up …………

I was willing Maeve and Vince to get together after such a long time, a myriad of wrong decisions and much wasted time.

The story follows Maeve and her twin sister Edie, who is disabled. Maeve always felt a little guilty that she was ‘normal’ and her sister wasn’t. Did she rob her sister of oxygen whilst in the womb? The story examines the treatment of ‘subnormal’ children in the 1950s. Invariably they were put into asylums. It depicted how such a child can respond to life in a loving home at the centre of a loving family. It also showed how caring for such a child can impact on the carers and Maeve and Edie’s parents have their own struggles. The book is interspersed with some of Edie’s favourite songs and sayings, which I loved and these made her very real.

In her latter years, Maeve turns her family home into a boarding house for disabled guests, holidaymakers and performers. Her relationship with Steph and Len, two young volunteers working at the boarding house both of whom have Down’s Syndrome, is a delight. The two young people have fallen in love and want to marry. Even though the world is now more accepting of disability, Maeve still suffers from a minority who paint graffiti on her walls.

Maeve’s twin haunts the novel as indeed she has haunted Maeve’s life. Maeve’s past is gradually disclosed and the reader begins to understand where Vince fits in with her story.

It would be easy to think that Maeve is an embittered 80 year old, resentful of lost opportunities. However, what we see is a brave lady who sees that she can enjoy whatever time she has left with the person who means the most to her.

The book is poignant, sad but uplifting. As we age, it is natural to look back on life’s pleasures and regrets. This looking back is at the heart of the book.

A brilliant, brilliant book. I strongly recommend this as a personal read and also for book groups.

Dorothy Flaxman 5/5

Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney
Legend Press 978-1785079672 pbk Jul 2016

dir90

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