Alan Garner’s The Owl Service

Title: The Owl Service
Author: Alan Garner
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published Date: 17th October 2017
Edition: 50th Anniversary Edition
Page Count: 224
ISBN: 978-0008248505
Price: Cover price $6.99 – what I paid $5.61
Reviewer: Gwendoline SK Terry (26 Jan 2019)

It all begins with the scratching in the ceiling. From the moment Alison discovers the dinner service in the attic, with its curious pattern of floral owls, a chain of events is set in progress that is to effect everybody’s lives.

Relentlessly, Alison, her step-brother Roger and Welsh boy Gwyn are drawn into the replay of a tragic Welsh legend – a modern drama played out against a background of ancient jealousies. As the tension mounts, it becomes apparent that only by accepting and facing the situation can it be resolved.

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.