Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney
Legend Press
Julia Pascal

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a gripping novel by a hugely gifted writer and one that is rich on atmosphere and character study.  The originality of the work is its investigative story line which focuses on the loving relationship between a twin and her disabled sister.  What is unusual is that the protagonist, Maeve, is 79 years old.  Her long life is the motor that reveals the changing attitudes to disability in English society over the past decades.

Sweeney’s research reveals areas that may shock the reader; the enforced sterility of those perceived as ‘feeble-minded’ which was part of the eugenics movement absorbed into the twentieth century English system.   More recently there was the removal of disabled children from any kind of schooling with the able-bodied.  The book works so well because it is not just fuelled by research; there is an insider knowledge working here.  Sweeney’s sister has cerebral palsy and is on the autism spectrum.  This first-hand experience within her own family creates a winning personality in the character of Edie who is an intelligent young woman trapped in the body of a person with Down’s Syndrome.

Most appealing in the book is the way Sweeney captures the spirit of Morecambe, and the north of England, particularly in the postwar period.  She writes with a singularly northern voice which has comedy as well as pathos.

There is a mystery element to the novel.  Sweeney keeps her readers guessing why Maeve’s fiancé stood her up at the altar and she explores the pain of unresolved love stories with delicacy.  Sweeney is a brilliant storyteller.  She keeps her readers awake at night as they long to know how she will pull together all her threads.  Mistress of plotting, she does it seamlessly.

Julia Pascal © 2016.