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The Death of an Owl Hardcover – November 1, 2016
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One of the most outstanding authors to have emerged in recent years―DAILY EXPRESS
Paul Torday is a remarkably original novelist―EVENING STANDARD
Torday, as he demonstrated in his debut novel SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN, is an extravagantly gifted writer―MAIL ON SUNDAY
Torday is one of the most original voices in modern fiction―METRO
About the Author
Paul Torday burst on to the literary scene in 2007 with his first novel, SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN, an immediate international bestseller which has been translated into 28 languages and has been made into a film starring Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emily Blunt. His subsequent novels were all published to great critical acclaim. He lived close to the River North Tyne and died at home in December 2013.
Piers Torday was born in Northumberland and is the eldest son of Paul Torday. He has worked in live theatre, comedy and TV and is the bestselling author of three children's books, THE LAST WILD, which was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Award and nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, THE DARK WILD, which won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2014, and THE WILD BEYOND. He lives in London.
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Top Customer Reviews
Fast forward to September 2010. Charles had become reasonably prosperous, and had moved into academia as Professor of Strategic Communications at Newcastle University. Andrew, who had bought a farm house on the Cumbria-Northumberland border, had become a front bench Conservative MP for a North of England constituency and was a member of the parliamentary committee which had just toughened up the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Ambitious as ever, and with his (unnamed) party leader losing his grip, a leadership challenge was on the cards, and Andrew was preparing himself to be the challenger, as was his Oxford contemporary Maldwyn. (This where the book departs from the actual political scene: the Conservative party leader in the autumns of 2010, David Cameron, was not in such a weak position that a leadership challenge was remotely on the cards.) Andrew wanted Charles to become one of his special advisors, along with one Matt Dilcombe, who already had a reputation for having turned around an electoral campaign in New Zealand. Andrew, Charles and their wives were driving to Andrew’s farm where Andrew and Charles were going to discuss this, when Andrew’s car hit and wounded a barn owl, a protected species. In a fury, Andrew killed the bird. The next day the dead owl was discovered by one of Andrew’s neighbours, and Andrew said he knew nothing about it. This upset Charles’ sense of honesty, as did Dilcombe’s underhand suggestion about how they could destroy Maldwyn’s chances to become party leader; but Charles continued to work for Andrew. Small thanks he would get for it.
It would be a spoiler to say what happened next, either in regard to the challenge from Maldwyn or to the owl incident. Suffice it to say that owls hovers over the story, not only as a real incident which threatens Andrew’s career, but also in a spooky and gothick way that haunts Charles, his wife and Andrew: the book becomes a ghost story with a macabre ending.
Charles is soon at Oxford, where he is invited to join Merlin’s, a rather exclusive dining club, and meets the ‘College Swan,’ Andrew Landford. The nickname comes from Andrew’s cool and collected outward demeanour, where everything he does looks effortless, while he is desperately paddling away beneath the surface… Despite others reservations, Charles likes Andrew, and they meet up again some years later when, to his surprise, Charles finds that Andrew and Caroline are romantically involved.
I really liked the beginning of this book. The relationships between Charles and Andrew and Charles and Caroline worked really well. I was totally engrossed at the rise of Charles and his successful career and, in the background, Andrew’s rise to Deputy Leader of the Opposition and possible next Prime Minister. Of course, though, the whole novel revolves around the death of an owl – as the very title tells us. This takes place years after we meet the characters when Charles and Andrew, plus their respective wives, are going for a weekend at Andrew’s family home.
Throughout the years, Andrew has acted as an advisor for Charles and is renowned for his honesty. However, when Andrew is driving he hits, then kills, an owl. A minor tragedy, you might feel, but in Paul Torday’s hands, this event is cleverly played. Andrew Landford is on a parliamentary committee which recently toughened up the Wildlife and Countryside Act; making it a criminal offence to kill an owl, even by accident. Now, Andrew finds himself in an awkward position and, when a neighbour finds the bird and reports the offence to the police, the situation begins to spiral out of control.
I found the end of this book quite disappointing, especially after a strong start. I know Piers Torday completed the novel, so wonder whether that was why the ending felt so wrong, or whether he followed notes his father had made on where the book was going? Either way, it did feel the novel derailed slightly, but I am still glad that I read it and I enjoyed the beginning and middle enough that I will overlook the weak ending and give Paul Torday both the benefit of the doubt and my thanks for writing so many great novels for us to enjoy. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review. Rated 3.5.
The book was, for me, a total success. Smart and interesting and well-written. I don't know how much to credit this to Paul Torday, the original author who died before finishing, and how much to his son Piers. Regardless, the result is a worthy bookend to Paul Torday's career. Four and half stars, really, as some elements of magical realism that become important late in the book feel out of place with the superior political material that came before