The Owl Service by Alan Garner

The first part of this is a repeat of what I posted as I began the book. To get to the new part without reading the beginning again, scroll down to the dashed line.

The Owl ServiceThe Owl Service by Alan Garner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars (aka 7/10)

Written as I begin…

She wants to be flowers but you keep making her owls.

This will be a paraphrase rather than a direct quote, as it’s something I’ve always remembered, almost been haunted by, over the years since I read Alan Garner’s The Owl Service as a child. Every so often, that evocative phrase would bubble out of my subconscious and I’d think of it for a moment before going back to my everyday life.

She wants to be flowers but you keep making her owls.

Despite that deep memory, I’ve never reread the book. I was searching the shelves in the library a week or two ago, looking for books for Marcus, when I saw this edition sitting on the rack. I picked it up pretty much without thinking and checked it out on my card rather than his. I didn’t know if I’d read it, but that line floated up again and that’s why I brought it home.

Then I started making up a book pool for Once Upon a Time VII and it seemed only sensible to add this to it. Before I knew what had happened, I realised it was going to be my first book for the challenge. It’s either based on, or a retelling of (I can’t remember which since I read it so long ago) the story of Blodeuwedd, a Welsh tale from The Mabinogion and now I’ve written this introduction, I shall go and read it. I’ll report back when I’m finished.


Okay, so I finished this 10 days ago and I still haven’t come back to finish my review. That’s because I don’t quite know what to say.

I have found myself with two reactions to this book. One is a response to the words on the page, and I find myself very disappointed to say that it didn’t hold up to my memories of it. BUT, and this is the strange thing, my emotional reaction remains the same. What I have carried away from the book remains magical and I don’t quite know why.

The prose is actually very sparse. You are thrown into the story without much – or really any – introduction to the characters or the setting. Immediately, Alison is hear scritchings in the ceiling and Gwyn is looking into it and finding the plates. Bang, off we go.

There’s a good bit of back-story that really isn’t fully spelled out. It isn’t always clear exactly what is happening and sometimes the story jumps ahead, straight into the next bit of action without transitioning you there. It also ends abruptly, as soon as the threat is done, with no wind-down or investigation into the consequences of what has just happened.

And YET…

Garner works some kind of subtle magic I totally don’t understand, so that the reader seems to pick up all those missing pieces by osmosis. And the result is that while I noticed those things while reading, once I was finished, the magic was back and I found myself loving the book all over again.

I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how he does it. But it works.

However, I may choose not to read the book itself again, and instead hold the glow of the story to myself like a warm and pleasant memory where some of the magic comes from the blurring of the actual experience.

View all my reviews


One response to this post.

  1. OMG this brings back memories…not of the book itself, but just of reading such books when I was younger.

    Great review!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: