Author: Alan Garner
Published Date: 17th October 2017
Edition: 50th Anniversary Edition
Page Count: 224
Price: Cover price $6.99 – what I paid $5.61
Reviewer: Gwendoline SK Terry (26 Jan 2019)
Alison, her stepbrother Roger, her mother and stepfather are holidaying in a gorgeous, isolated valley in Wales, a few hours away from Aberystwyth, staying in an old house Alison inherited from her late father. Short-tempered Nancy and her son Gwyn have been hired to work at the house for the family’s stay, as has Huw Halfbacon, (whom Nancy hates) the strange handy-man and gardener who has worked at the house for many years. Alison, Gwyn and Roger, discover a dinner service decorated with a floral owl pattern in the loft of the house. The moment they find it, bizarre things start happening, and the teens become embroiled in the centre of a mystical curse from centuries ago, doomed to repeat the tragic legend of Bloduewedd, Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebr.
Review – may contain spoilers!
The Owl Service is a phenomenal, low fantasy book, first published in 1967. I read it for the first time when I was nine or so years old in school and was enraptured by the hair-raising mystery of the book; I went on to read it multiple times afterwards. Almost twenty years later, I ‘rediscovered’ The Owl Service and was not disappointed; I read the book in one sitting, my arms covered in goosebumps from the brooding eeriness of the tale. The story is fast-paced, comprising of mostly dialogue, nevertheless Garner manages to maintain a constant menacing, haunting atmosphere for the majority of the book.
Alison, Gwyn and Roger do mirror the Mabinogion myth of Bloduewedd, Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebr, though the ‘love-triangle’ between the three was very subtle, being more about society-ranks than romance (though there was a noticeable tension between Alison and Gwyn), but still comparable to the triangle between Bloduewedd, Lleu and Gronw.
Of all the characters in the book, Gwyn was by far the most fleshed-out and interesting. I did feel somewhat disheartened at the end when he could not give up his jealousy, anger and hatred to save Alison but Roger could.
The ending of the book was very sudden. Some might find it unsatisfying, and I admit, I didn’t expect it to end so quickly – though Roger managed to save Alison, did they end the curse permanently? Or did they just ‘complete’ their parts in the curse, and the curse will repeat in the next generation, as it has before?
Regardless of the sudden ending, I enjoyed the book immensely and would recommend others to read it (and read it multiple times, at that!). It is indeed a classic.
Finally, due to the book’s age, it should be noted that the language is dated. I’m unsure how well a child in 2019 would read and grasp the story due to this.