Monday, 15 December 2014

Owls Do Cry - Janet Frame (1957)

Those who are familiar with Jane Champion’s film - An Angel at My Table (1990), would have an awareness of both the hardships and the triumphs of Frame’s life. Owls Do Cry was her first novel and like her admirers work, Patrick White, it is a fine example of high modernism. The style is organic; words tumble along with allusive child-like poetic imagery. It is quite beautiful, but can present a challenge to those unfamiliar with modernist forms bending narratives. Owls Do Cry follows the fortunes of the Withers family, including Daphne, whom is modeled on Frame’s own experiences (although in interviews Frame advised against seeing her work as autobiographical). There is also pointed social satire; revealing New Zealand’s growing middle class to be shallow and hypocritical. The novel is profoundly sad and left me feeling bereft and slightly adrift. I admired the writing but did not enjoy the overall experience; it felt like I was being forced to confront some deep inner core of melancholy. Tackle Owls Do Cry when you are feeling robust and adventurous, otherwise it could turn out to be an emotionally draining experience.

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