Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame

Published: 1957. 1. First lines 2. Cover: Text Publishing 3. Background picture: Image by r. nial bradshaw [CC BY 2.0] Original has been cropped.

This book is set in a small town in New Zealand in the 1950s, and it’s about the Withers family, a poor working class family over a period of 20 years. Daphne, one of the daughters is committed to a mental institution, paralleling the author’s own experiences. Son Toby is epileptic and suffers not only bullying but is untreated for many years. Older daughter Francine suffers a tragedy and younger daughter Chicks marries, moves away, and has a family of her own.

“What if I have no inner life?”

This book is considered a classic, both as a period piece, “a strong reflection of the time at which it was written” (Guardian), and for its exploration of life in a mental institution. “The sections on life mental illness, informed as they are by Janet Frame’s own experiences in institutions, are especially powerful.” (Guardian)


“She grew more and more silent about what really mattered. She curled inside herself like one of those black chimney brushes, the little shellfish you see on the beach, and you touch them, and then go inside and don’t come out.” 

Author: Janet Frame

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