Friday, November 30, 2007

The Owl Service

The Owl Service by Alan Garner, is--interesting. And if you live in Minnesota or you know someone who does, you will probably understand that when we say "well now that was interesting" with a certain inflection it is a nice way to say "I'm not quite sure what to make of it. I sort of like it. I sort of don't. I'm leaning towards don't but I'm willing to consider what others think of it and possibly as a result end up liking it but it has to be a convincing argument." Of course sometimes it also means, "This guy is a real nutcase and I'm just going to humor him and hope he goes away soon." See, Minnesotans pride ourselves on being nice--Minnesota Nice--and have found all kinds of ways to make it seem like we are nice an polite when on the inside we are thinking, "wtf?"

But I am getting off topic. Owl Service was interesting in the "I'm not sure what to think of it" way. Briefly, the book is about three kids, two English step-siblings Roger and Alison, and a Welsh boy, Gwyn. The English kids are on holiday with the family at their Welsh country house which was left to Alison, by her father who is deceased. The kids--teenagers--find a full dinner service in the attic. The dishes have what look like an odd flower pattern on them. Alison figures out that with some tracing paper and some clever paper turnings here and there, the design turns into an owl. After all the flower/owls have been traced off the plate, the pattern on the plate disappears. The Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd is awakened and the three kids are caught up in it and someone could end up dead.

I voted for the selection of this book because I was interested in the Welsh mythology aspect of it. I don't know much about Wales and its myths so I thought it would be a fun introduction. Unfortunately the parts of the book I liked least were all related to the myth. Whenever the myth was at the forefront of the plot, things got confusing.

Take out the myth and I thought the story was pretty good. I liked the historical cultural dynamic between the Welsh and English, and the Welsh themselves, trying to change their image from rural farmers to sophisticated cosmopolitans. There was also the servant dynamic tossed in to make relationships even more muddled. Gwyn, the Welsh boy is also a servant, or rather, the son of the servants. The kids get along until classism and English/Welsh prejudices rear their ugly heads and get in the way.

And I enjoyed the depiction of the relationship between the kids as they try to figure out the identities they want to claim for themselves. They struggle with choosing the ones that are being imposed by their parents or the culture at large or one they invent for themselves.

But then Blodeuwedd gets in the way and instead of the myth adding to and enriching all that the kids are going through, it detracts from it. The myth portions of the book seemed contrived, imposed, artificial. There should have been two books, one about three kids coming of age and one a retelling of the Bloeduwedd myth. Instead we've got one book that is--interesting.

Cross posted at So Many Books

2 comments:

Dorothy W. said...

I agree with you about the mythology -- it wasn't integrated very well. I perked up when the kids were interacting and lost a bit of interest when I had to try to figure out the myth. But people who've read the book more than once seem to like it more, so perhaps it's a book that can grow on you ...

litlove said...

I liked the story about the relationship between the teenagers best - it struck home to me as the most realistic and powerful part of the novel. The myth really needed more explanation - I'm with the polite Minnesotans on this one!!