Owl Song at Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney


Maeve runs Sea View Lodge in Morecambe. Nearly eighty years old, Maeve has lived there all her life. A guest house that once catered to civil servants in the war, builders afterwards and now specialises in accommodating travellers with disabilities, Sea View Lodge is filled with a history that Maeve has done her best to keep locked in the shed.

One day Vincent, a friend from her youth, turns up wanting a room and that history begins to break its chains.

Maeve once had a twin, a twin with various disabilities that at that time in England meant Edie was labelled as ‘subnormal’, at best ‘unfortunate’. The history Maeve has locked away is all about how her family fought to care for Edie against all the advice of the time that recommended sending her into institutional care to allow them to focus on their healthy child.

Whilst the third section of the book had me in tears through most of it, there is nothing sentimental or politically cautious about Emma Claire Sweeney’s writing. Maeve writes the whole novel to Edie and yet for years she hasn’t mentioned her name to anyone. This is a woman making the best of a bad hand whose resentment and anger acts as a barrier and for whom intimacy is difficult. Whose life then is set out for us to judge? Whose life has more value? Which twin has had the raw deal?

Intersected with Maeve’s narrative are passages of Edie’s words – mostly remembered lyrics, poems and repeated phrases that reveal a deeper knowledge of her sister’s situation regardless of Maeve’s excellent school reports and exam results – and letters and reports from doctors, social workers and others regarding the welfare of Edie and Maeve’s other charges at Sea View Lodge, as well as builder’s reports and personal letters.

The telling of the novel is beautifully crafted, each passage cleverly timed to build our intrigue and understanding of the wider work. This is intelligent and polished writing telling stories about those whose voices are all too often unheard. Not only will you want to stay up all night reading for the contemporary and historical plot, you won’t fail to appreciate the delicate elegance of the writing. Owl Song at Dawn is a book that should go straight onto bestseller and prize-winning lists. Get ahead of the crowd and read it now.

I’m lucky enough to be interviewing Emma this week for Authors QH so do expect an update later this week.

Next week I’m reading another book about twins, Beside Myself by Ann Morgan.