Review published on November 12, 2017.
The story starts in 1981 when Charles Fryerne, the narrator, goes up to Oxford. While studying there he meets two men who will influence his life, Andrew and Maldwyn, who go on to be elected MPs. Charles becomes a journalist and then a sort of communications guru, first running an agency then as an academic. He establishes a reputation for telling the truth as the rest of the world becomes involved in spin. In 2010, Andrew and Maldwyn are vying to become leader of the Opposition and Charles joins Andrew’s team as an adviser. One night, Andrew, Charles and their wives are driving along a country lane when a barn owl flies into the windscreen. After this, events start to spiral out of control.
I really enjoyed how the story develops. Time is taken to develop the characters, but then the pace quickens as Andrew’s and Charles’s careers are threatened by their actions and decisions regarding whether or not to tell the truth. The way Charles becomes drawn into a web of deceit and lies is cleverly crafted and it becomes quite a morality tale.
Towards the end it becomes darker and more gothic and I wasn’t convinced that this was needed. The character of Charles also wasn’t quite convincing, probably because I’m too cynical to believe that someone portrayed as rather naive and a believer in always telling the truth could build a successful corporate communications company. However, this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
This would be an ideal choice for book groups as there is so much to discuss about the nature of truth and what different decisions could have been made. The structure of the novel would also be an interesting point for discussion as the book was begun by Paul Torday before he died and completed by his son, Piers.
Berwyn Peet 3/4
The Death of an Owl by Paul Torday and Piers Torday
W&N 9781780222264 pbk Feb 2017