12 February, 2017

Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame


Shall I start with a confession? Of all New Zealand writers I’ve ever read, Janet Frame remains my number one author, a true writer with the most distinctive, unusual and remarkable voice. However pathetic it may sound, such a feeling of admiration and respect totally overwhelms me whenever I come across her writing, whether it is an early or later novel, autobiography or correspondence.

This time it was her first and possibly most recognised novel written in Frank Sargeson’s hut in Takapuna where, after eight years in mental hospitals and over 200 electroshocks, she was fortunate to find some quiet place and time to write a book. The novel’s successful publication afforded her an overseas trip to Europe where in the next eight years she fully established herself as a writer.

Owls Do Cry is a story of one family in a provincial New Zealand town, reminiscent of Frame’s own family and the town she grew up in. It starts with some nostalgic images of the poor yet cheerful childhood of four siblings, soon to be clouded by a terrible accident involving the death of one of them. In the following chapters, we see the same characters as grown-ups, get to know and understand each of them a little better, think of what they became or did not become.

As a writer, Frame has been mostly praised for her use of language, experimentation with literary forms and ideas – the skills she had mastered so well over the years. Aware of her shy personality and solitary lifestyle, one would possibly not expect Frame to be a great people expert. Yet what struck me most, especially in this first novel, was her insight into and knowledge of personality types along with her deepest sympathy towards the nature of human suffering.

Title: Owls Do Cry
Author: Janet Frame

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

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