Review by JJ Marsh
A shocking opener involving a school stabbing throws the reader right into the middle of three lives. Ayisha is a teacher who believes in The Rules. Shamayal is a teenager from the estate who follows no rules - not his dad's, not the gang's, no one's. Jim teaches history. His own history has taught him that rules are open to interpretation.
The narrative is divided: one strand details a younger Jim's encounter with a girl from the other side of the tracks, Aimee. Their unlikely friendship develops into an obsession with bird-watching, triggered by the sight of a barn owl. It's a summer Jim will never forget. The second strand unpacks the present-day implications of teacher-pupil boundaries, an education system smothered by red tape and how easy it is for an individual to slip through the cracks.
The motif of the owl as angel, ghost, predator and victim recurs throughout the book as random kindnesses and cruelties affect the lives of others. Events change the characters: Ayisha learns how the rule book does not cover every eventuality; Shamayal discovers Bins, the old bloke living rough, should not be written off; and Jim's return to the present opens his eyes to how he's been living in the past.
It's a richly detailed novel peopled with nuanced characters, sharp dialogue and thought-provoking situations which encourage the reader to stop and wonder, 'What would I do?'. The setting is subtle yet realistic and creates a world you are reluctant to leave. Jane Davis is an extraordinary writer, whose deft blend of polished prose and imaginative intelligence makes you feel in the safest of hands.
I bought A Funeral for an Owl as a birthday present for my mum. There is no greater compliment.