Owls Do Cry Continues to Astonish 60 Years On
The “modern masterpiece” Owls Do Cry, written by New Zealand author Janet Frame in 1957, “about siblings struggling with money, health and grief still has the power to unnerve and astonish,” writes Claire Hazelton in a review for the Guardian.
“Considered the first great New Zealand novel, Owls Do Cry, tells of the Withers siblings, Daphne, Chicks, Toby and Francie, and their struggles with financial instability, mental health, disability and grief.
“The sections on Daphne’s mental illness, informed as they are by Janet Frame’s own experiences in institutions, are especially powerful.
“Descriptions of events in Daphne’s life begin grounded in reality, but slip into grand, dreamlike imagery (‘a woman led Daphne to the bathroom where a trough had been scooped from a side of one of the mountains’), vividly conveying her struggle for sanity.
“Lack of understanding of epilepsy at the time is touched on: Toby ‘falls into fits’, scaring and embarrassing his sisters. His illness severely restricts his life and only in dreams is he free to be and do what he wants. While a strong reflection of the time at which it was written, Owls Do Cry remains innovative and relevant. Frame’s idiosyncratic and startlingly visual style means that the book’s immense power to unnerve, astonish and impress endures.”
Frame was born Nene Janet Paterson Clutha in Dunedin in 1924. She died in 2004, aged 79. A number of posthumous works have been published since her death, including a volume of poetry entitled The Goose Bath, which was awarded New Zealand’s top poetry prize in 2007.
Original article by Claire Hazelton, The Guardian, February 11, 2016.
Photo by Ronald Grant.