Our Crack Tongue & Groove
I’m tawny – tawny, tawny, tawny
2017 has been a year of 50th anniversaries, some important (the sexual offences act of 1967) some less so (the release of ‘Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr Spock’s Music from Outer Space’ album), but there is one 50th that seems to have passed everyone by: Alan Garner’s novel ‘The Owl Service’.
Alan Garner learned Welsh “in order not to use it” when writing The Owl Service, which, yes, is set in Wales. Not that you would immediately gather this when you begin to read it however, because this is a novel with barely any expositional text at all. The reader must try and piece together a story that, nominally, concerns Roger and Alison who are stepbrother and sister. Alison’s father is dead and her mother, Margaret, is now married to Roger’s father, Clive.
That’s the bare bones of the tale, but it’s a story steeped in Welsh mysticism, class snobbery and the supernatural. It’s also the most unnerving account you will ever read about a set of dishes. Yes! The titular Owl Service is some plates that Alison finds in the attic of their holiday home which are painted with a pattern that enraptures her. Throw in a furtive housekeeper, a woman made of flowers (yes, really) and a gardener called Huw Halfbacon (yes, really) - who is given to gnomic statements such as “Why do we destroy ourselves?” - and you’ve got one heady, enigmatic brew. But in a novel of many rug-pulling moments, my favourite is the creepy non-appearance of Alison’s mother, Margaret. One of the central characters, she gets no dialogue, or scenes, but is constantly referenced throughout.
It’s utterly bonkers, and, despite being aimed at “young adults”, takes a lot of unpacking, but it certainly deserves the many accolades that it has won over the last 50 years. Unbelievably, it was made into an even more off-the-map TV series that was first shown on ITV in 1970.
Supposedly aimed at children – it had a 5.15pm slot – I’d hesitate in recommending this to any child, although, to be fair, I’d hesitate in recommending it to any adult either; not unless that adult was fully prepared to lose themselves in a world which makes The League of Gentleman’s Royston Vasey look like Trumpton.
Me? I absolutely love it even though on first viewing I felt like I’d been kidnapped and cast into an arena of despair and confusion. Strangely the TV programme (which ramps up the sexual tension – yes, despite the 5.15pm time slot) compliments the novel and vice versa. Get on board with both if you want a real treat. Final word to Huw Halfbacon: “She wants to be flowers, but you make her owls.” Quite.The Folio Society have produced a beautiful hardback of the book (pictured) foliosociety.com; the DVD is available from Network.