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Owls Do Cry

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,344 ratings  ·  144 reviews
Set in provincial, pre-1940s New Zealand, Owls Do Cry explores the Withers family, in particular Daphne Withers. When one of Daphne's sisters dies, a crisis is provoked that leads Daphne to a mental asylum where she receives shock treatment. Her voice from "the Dead Room" haunts the novel with its poetic insights.
Paperback, 210 pages
Published March 1st 1982 by George Braziller (first published 1957)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  1,344 ratings  ·  144 reviews


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Chrissie
Did I enjoy reading this? No, but that is because of the subject matter. This is a book about the mentally ill, the physically ill, aging and death. It records the darker side of human behavior; how humans behave toward the impoverished, the ill and the aging. The portrayal is uncomfortably accurate.

This was Janet Frame's first novel and it has strong autobiographical elements. She was incorrectly institutionalized as a schizophrenic. She was institutionalized for a decade but avoided a lobotom
...more
Mariel
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: if chemistry could silence the lion's laugh I'd be fine
Recommended to Mariel by: I don't know hell but I've read about it often
You would think this night that the world sated with blossom and love and death would finish and there would be no memory of it anywhere, save perhaps on a cave wall of new time, where the posturing figures dance unseen their stillness of clay or chalk or stone.
You would think all this on a spring night.
Except the thinking is not real.


The feeling I had a lot when reading Owls Do Cry was of looking out of the corner of your eye. When looking at it full on whatever you expected to see was not ther
...more
Lanea
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Janet Frame is another one of those authors whose books I ration. I discovered Frame's work after I fell for Jane Campion's work. The Piano led to An Angel at My Table, which was based on Frame's autobiography of the same name and some of her other work. Frame died a few years ago after a life of tragedy, astounding accomplishments, and gorgeous writing. Some writers wish they would write like Dickinson or Faulkner or Shakespeare . . . I wish I could write like Frame.

Owls Do Cry was Frame's fir
...more
Ensiform
Jun 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
The children of a poor family in New Zealand, the Withers, spend their days searching through rubbish heaps for childish treasures, fearing and suspicious of much (their hard-working, simple father, the nurse at school, the day when they must go face the factories and mills of the adult world). After the eldest girl dies horrifically, the book jumps twenty years ahead: we now see that the youngest is married and trying, poorly, to get on in higher society; Daphne is mute and in a grim mental ins ...more
Debbie
May 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is the first Janet Frame book I have ever read so her writing took some getting used to at first - she has her own style which is kind of semi-stream-of-consciousness. She uses punctuation in a very interesting way and some sentences call for a re-read. Once you get the hang of it you realise how rich, deep and beautifully poetic her writing is.

The book is based in 1950s New Zealand and follows the story of one family from Dunedin in the South Island, and goes in-depth into the characters
...more
S̶e̶a̶n̶
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the minotaurs of our yesterday
Recommended to S̶e̶a̶n̶ by: the beak of a bird spitting lace
Shelves: 2019, somewhere-else
And the grey crater of the long-dead mad lies empty enough to be filled with many truths together.
In her first novel Janet Frame explores the life of the Withers family living in poverty in the small but growing town of Waimaru, southern New Zealand. The book opens when the four children (three girls and one boy) are young and it follows them for a while as they do their childhood things: going to school, searching for treasure in the rubbish heap, experiencing the first pangs of growing up.
...more
Sarah
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
I was debating on whether to listen to the audio or read the book, so I asked the friend that I heard about it from what I should do. His (rather wise) reply was that he actually did both simultaneously. Somehow this felt to me like I was wasting some time but I decided to try anyway. I struggled at first but it really did end up being the best way to experience this book. It gave it a much more three dimensional character. Throughout the book there were these cockeyed, slightly surreal scenes w ...more
Lee Foust
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Owls Do Cry is Janet Frame's first novel, the third of her novels that I've read since joining Goodreads, and my fourth overall. While I seem to recall I was a bit more puzzled than blown away by the first novel of hers that I read, Scented Gardens for the Blind, now that I've read and so loved her first three, I must return to that one, her fourth. (Sadly, I just left it behind in Florence and I'm now in San Francisco for the summer. --insert unhappy face emoticon here.)

Like Frame's second and
...more
Sandy Hogarth
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I started to read Owls Do Cry as research for my second novel as I cannot decide whether my protagonist is sent to prison or a Closed Psychiatric Unit. Well, it has helped me decide. It will be prison.

Despite the painfulness of the subject matter what a delight the language is, especially when it is Daphne’s story. It is the story of the Withers family: Francie, Toby, who is epileptic, Chicks the baby of the family and Daphne with her wonderful and damaging imagination. And what an extraordinary
...more
Nathan
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've never read anything like this. It breaks all kind of "rules" - the verb tense shifts, unconventional punctuation and sentence structure, etc. There isn't really a main character. There's a main family, but I couldn't pick any one of its members as a protagonist. But it works. It works REALLY well.

The story chronicles the lives of a poor family in a small town called Waimaru in New Zealand. There's plenty of dialog and action. The characters are clear and well-developed. But the sentences of
...more
Erica
Sep 14, 2019 added it
Shelves: favorites, 2019
instant favorite. ranks above both leonora carrington and marianne fritz in its portrayal of abjection and madness. wittgenstein's mistress meets the bell jar meets trumpets of jericho. this is my favorite type of book
Sarah
May 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is genius writing. And, beautiful. And, brave.
It's a bit squeamish-making, which is why I'm not putting this on my "favorites" shelf, but I vehemently recommend it, nevertheless.

If you haven't seen An Angel at My Table, the film about Janet Frame's life, I recommend that as well.

Thank you, again, Jo!
Richard Derus
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rating: The Full Five

Absolutely my favorite Kiwi novel. I learned so much about the national character of the country I feel I should have been born in.
Joshie
A countryside drama about a dysfunctional family and their unending encounter with misfortune, Frame's Owls Do Cry touches on several interweaving societal issues which afflict the human condition. Each chapter pivots on one member of the family where individuality intersects their relationships with each other. The novel's narrative greatly delves with how poverty, mental illness, sex, and disabilities limit the opportunities and ultimately decide the life of a person.

Here, a family is desperat
...more
Aubrey
Having read three of Frame's works previous to this in my usually haphazardly headlong fashion, I can say with confidence that this is one of her more straightforward pieces. A surprising statement to the average reader, perhaps, but that doesn't mean I don't value this work as much as her others. Indeed, the lack of quotes that usually pepper my reviews is due to a general brilliance of prose that happened to not condense itself nicely enough for any sort of any one to three sentence excision, ...more
Laura J. W.
Jun 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Starting on page one... "The Day is early with birds beginning and the wren in a cloud piping like the child in the poem, drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe..." this book knocked the wind out of me, and did so on more than one occasion...I couldn't put it down, but forced myself to so I could absorb it in small bites...most definitely a "read it again someday" book. My copy is dog-eared with favorite bits, in some cases, if the bits spilled over to the next page, I dog-eared the bottom corner to indi ...more
Dillwynia Peter
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a very deliberate poetic & lyrical novel; unfortunately the interesting punctuation & italics is lost when read as an audiobook. However, overall, the effect is the same.

This is a simple family drama- how will the family react to a death of an young adult child. All the characters are strong & believable. Father is laconic; mum only recognises one illness in the family - Toby's epilepsy; and the children grow up with various faults. No one is perfect in this book.

My favourite character i
...more
Reenie
Aug 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Janet Frame's first novel gets you right from the first chapter, just from the way she uses words. I went back and read that over a couple of times before going on, just because the rhythm and the sound of the words rolled around nicely.

Overall, I think it was the language and writing most of all that appeals in this book, although there are also moments where bits and pieces of a character are neatly skewered and laid out for understanding that were great. The epilogue might have been a little
...more
Lisa
Owls Do Cry is Janet Frame’s first full-length novel and was hailed as a critical success from the start. First published in 1957 and recently reissued in a 50th anniversary edition (on which this audio book is based), it is the tragic story of the Withers family, from a small town in New Zealand.

The first chapters about the poverty-stricken childhood of Francie, Daphne, Toby and ‘Chicks’ will bring a lump to the throat for most readers. The descriptions of how the ‘dirty’ children are treated
...more
Mimi
Apr 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
This is a heartbreaking account of tragedy and alienation, but it takes a human scale. Frame's writing is elliptical and poetic, and the story by turns emerges from and dissolves back into her description of the emotional and physical worlds of her characters. She exposes the vulnerability of every character in a way that is both raw and compassionate. Every character--no matter how brief their appearance in the story--struggles with the tremendous weight of their existence in a different way. T ...more
Jade Lopert
Nov 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended by my grandma and sitting on my bookshelf for years, so we'll see? <-------before reading
After reading -------->
Ever read one of those books that is too metaphoric for it's own good? This is it. Once I finally figured out what was going on I liked it. But it took awhile to figure out what that was with so much of it being buried in vagueness. I also generally don't like walking away from a book feeling like nothing really happened. No characters really progressed or changed or develo
...more
Emily
Jan 16, 2009 added it
This is why I get mad at the publishing industry sometimes. This book should be a classic--it's up there w. such stream of conciousness toucstones as Ulysses and To the lighthouse--the most fascinating language and steeliest eye, clever motifs and full of well earned heart ache though never sentimental
Samantha
Aug 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Realistic, heartbreaking, and the most humanly depressing thing I've ever read. This is going to take me months to get over.
Ian
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An unsettling and utterly original work of genius, Owls Do Cry heralded the arrival of Janet Frame on the international literary scene and kicked off a period of staggering creativity in which she would publish nine novels in fifteen years. Owls Do Cry chronicles the lives of the Withers siblings, Daphne, Chicks (Teresa), Toby and Francie. Growing up in coastal Waimaru (based on Frame’s home town of Oamaru), the children are raised by their well-meaning, unsophisticated parents in a home with fe ...more
Shay Caroline
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sad
I first noticed this book simply because the title intrigued me. Since then I have read that the author spent part of her life in an institution, and was saved from brain surgery only by winning a prize for literature. And so this book is certainly autobiographical, to at least some significant degree.

It concerns the Withers family, well-named, consisting of the blustering father, faded and careworn mother, an older sister Francie who dies young in an accident, a bother Toby who is an epileptic,
...more
Mary Lou
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the Withers family, Mum, Dad, Francie, Daphne, Toby and Chickie, living in New Zealand on the bread line, just after WWII.
Much of the childhood action centres at the Dump, just down the road, where all treasures are to be found but only by children. This is the place where twelve-year-old Francie has a tragic accident which changes all the family but particularly Daphne for ever. And this is the place where, dump now cleared away and a house built on the site, years later, grown-up Chick
...more
LauraW
I cheat-read this book. I read enough of it to follow what was happening and to feel the mood, but I skipped over significant portions of it. I feel a bit guilty about this for a review, but I am going to review it anyway. The book is masterful - in language, in structure, in characterization, but it is also too much, for me at least. It is the kind of writing that people who actually know something about literature really love: evocative, deep, metaphorical. But I, unfortunately, am much more p ...more
Kobe Bryant
Jun 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Mentally ill and poor is rough
Helen Varley
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
it's decades since i read this, janet frame's first novel, & it's a delight to revisit her world & be once more immersed in her rich language and imagination. she creates entire alternative universes out of minute observations. i realise that i've only read a couple of her other novels (11 in total) so i'm looking forward to some further immersions. ...more
Emily
Sep 23, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Owls Do Cry is one of those novels that is written very well, in an interesting manner, although I found it difficult to understand exactly what the storyline was.

I decided to read Owls Do Cry for the topic studied in the 1st half of the year (social injustice) because my parents recommended it to me.

This category is fairly interesting, it reveals the things that are/have been wrong with our society and world. It isn't a genre I'd particularly go for if I was book browsing.

I am inclined to be
...more
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292 followers
The fate befalling the young woman who wanted "to be a poet" has been well documented. Desperately unhappy because of family tragedies and finding herself trapped in the wrong vocation (as a schoolteacher) her only escape appeared to be in submission to society's judgement of her as abnormal. She spent four and a half years out of eight years, incarcerated in mental hospitals. The story of her alm ...more

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