Book review: Owl Song At Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney

6 Jul

9781785079672Maeve Maloney is a force to be reckoned with. Despite nearing eighty, she keeps Sea View Lodge just as her parents did during Morecambe’s 1950s heyday. But now only her employees and regular guests recognise the tenderness and heartbreak hidden beneath her spikiness.

Until, that is, Vincent shows up. Vincent is the last person Maeve wants to see. He is the only man alive to have known her twin sister, Edie. The nightingale to Maeve’s crow, the dawn to Maeve’s dusk, Edie would have set her sights on the stage all things being equal. But, from birth, things never were.

If only Maeve could confront the secret past she shares with Vincent, she might finally see what it means to love and be loved a lesson that her exuberant yet inexplicable twin may have been trying to teach her all along.

Owl Song At Dawn is a beautifully written, memorable novel that manages to be heartbreaking yet uplifting, sad and funny, shocking in the cruelties noted but surprising and hopeful too. I was initially drawn to this book by the beautiful cover and intrigued by the story that might lay within. Maeve’s story soon captured me and I was gripped as Maeve’s past and present and the story of her sister Edie, who had severe learning difficulties, played out.

Maeve is a lovely character full of contradictions. Outwardly quite blunt and spiky, Maeve’s grumpy old lady  persona hides a lifetime of loss and sadness but you don’t have to look far beneath the surface to see that Maeve has a heart of gold. I had nothing but admiration for Maeve as I read. At almost eighty she’s still running the Sea View Lodge in Morcombe with a wonderfully quirky cast of characters to help her. Maeve’s guesthouse is a little different in that she specialises in accommodating guests that have learning difficulties or disabilities, in particular two of the key characters in the novel Steph and Len, both of whom have Down’s Syndrome.

The book is narrated by Maeve in the present with flashbacks to her earlier years that slowly build the story of hers and Edie’s past. The book is cleverly constructed to keep the reader guessing at a number of mysteries and also to provide stark contrasts between the post-war years and now in the treatment of individuals with learning difficulties. The chapters are studded with official correspondence, personal letters and medical reports about Edie and the treatment of disabled individuals in this period shocked me as Edie and Maeve’s parents fight to love and keep both their daughters in their care.

Love is a key theme in the story and Emma makes a subtle but important point about personal and society’s assumptions about romantic love and companionship and about sometimes not being able to see what’s right in front of our eyes. Similarly, parental love is a key theme with Steph and Len’s relationships with their parents providing sharp contrast to the trials of Edie and Maeve’s parents.

Owl Song At Dawn is an original and thought-provoking debut that is readable and engaging whilst packing a punch and making an important point about past regrets, love and living with differences whatever they might be. I will look forward to reading more from Emma Claire Sweeney.


Owl Song At Dawn is out now in paperback, ebook and audio formats from Legend Press.

Find out more about Emma Claire Sweeney and her writing at:

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.



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