Owls Do Cry – Janet Frame

Posted on 16 January 2010. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , |

Janet Frame was a New Zealand author and is also wrote An Angel at My Table which was adapted into film by Jane Campion.

Owls Do Cry is about the Withers family. They are a troubled lot. Toby has epilepsy, Francie dies from burns just as she is old enough to work and help the family finances. Daphne ended up in a mental hospital and was administered electroconvulsive therapy many times while Chicks ended up moving away when she got married.

Janet Frame is a very talented author. In this book she has written about thigns she knows intimately. She spent some time in a mental hospital in New Zealand an experienced electroconvulsive therapy first hand. The passage written from Daphne’s point of view about her time in the hospital and when she experienced the electroconvulsive therapy was particularly moving. It was disjointed and dreamlike as I imagine the time must have felt like to actually experience.

Her brother, George, had epilepsy so when she spoke about Toby’s fits she knew exactly what she was talking about. She must have helped him so many times she could have written about it blindfold.

Frame wrote very carefully about Francie and her death. It had me in shock and tears. It set the scene about how fragile the family finances were and what they needed to do in order to survive. It showed how important equipment, such as a bicycle, was to the family. It would ensure Francie would be able to get to work and contribute to the family finances which was very important to pay the bills. Toby’s medical bills were quite high and mentioned a couple of times. It also showed how she died from a child’s point of view and we have to fill in the gaps ourselves of what they didn’t see.

I don’t think I can give proper warnings about the book. Frame is a graphic author, not just with her words, but also with her presentation. The word and the concepts are hard enough to cope with but add in the layout of the book and the whole thing is very stark. Having said that though, she is a very important author to read, just be prepared for the emotional baggage that comes with it. I can’t recommend her enough so I’ll use the quote from the back of the book by Patrick White as that seems to do the trick:

“Janet Frame seems to me the most considerable New Zealand novelist yet. Her innocent eye can show one the commonest object for the first time, her sensibility can convey, and has perhaps experience, the bloodiest tortures of the mind.”

This copy is now for sale on the Suz’s Space website.

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