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She wants to be flowers, but you make her owls
on 7 October 2012
The book starts promisingly, as Roger, Alison and Gwyn awaken an ancient and dangerous power, and initially there is a real sense of foreboding as Alison slides deeper into its grip. There is plenty of depth to the plot at this point; the meaning of events is hidden from the children, though some adults seem to know what is happening and even to be complicit; various adult characters have hidden motives and histories; everything is uncertain.
However, as the book progresses and the meaning of the owls become clearer, the plot becomes shallower rather than deeper. The sense of foreboding lessens: although Alison feels a fear she does not understand, neither of the boys seems troubled by her behaviour, or by the unusual events which occur around them. Although the reader, and eventually the children themselves, can see a slide towards an inevitable and grisly end, there is no sense of horror.
Instead, the book shifts its focus to the dynamics of the triangular relationship between the three children, as it becomes clear that this is of paramount importance to the outcome of the story. But this is unfortunate, because of the three children only Gwyn is drawn with any depth. Roger is particularly two-dimensional, and his and Gwyn's antagonism appears to have no greater foundation than schoolboyish taunts (think Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy); hardly the basis for a deep undercurrent of hate. Gwyn's relationship with Alison fares only slightly better; although his attraction to her is subtly expressed, too little reason or substance is given to it, considering its pivotal role in the plot.
Although you can spot all sorts of themes (racial divide, class divide, privilege, ...), they are portrayed just as simplistically as they can be identified. It feels like an exercise in O Grade English Literature.
In some ways this is a masterful book: a myth returns to haunt the living; the characters are compelled to re-enact tragedies of the past. But the terrifying potential of the myth is dissipated by the weak characterisation, leaving the story is robbed of its power.