Chouette by Claire Oshetsky
Published by Virago, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This strange and hypnotic novel functions simultaneously as the fable-esque story of a woman convinced she has given birth to an owl-human hybrid, and a powerful allegory about difference, disability, mental health, and motherhood.
Oshetsky does an excellent job of showing how all-consuming parenthood can be, particularly if your child has severe disabilities and/or disfigurements that mark them out as “other”. Fiercely protective of her daughter, our protagonist must continually fight to allow her the chance to embrace her true nature, rebelling against constant pressure to seek out treatments and therapies to help her better integrate. Where she sees wonder and a unique beauty to be celebrated, society sees a problem; something to be feared, fixed, or at best, ignored.
Thanks to the tone established by Oshetsky’s prose and the story’s fantastical elements, the majority of the book takes on the quality of a dark, modern fairy tale. Later in the narrative, however, threads on “help” offered as a means of self-gratification, and the dangers of science overruling our own humanity, add further depth and real-world emotional resonance that ensure it stays grounded.
The skill of the novel’s construction, and the well-implemented use of an unreliable narrator, allow readers the freedom to treat the magical realism elements as literally or as figuratively as they wish. There is equal narrative and thematic interest to hold your attention either way.
While I felt the ending itself was pitched a little too ambiguously in terms of what the author wanted to say, the reading experience as a whole was gripping – all the more so for how unashamedly odd it is. I’m sure this singular read will stick with me for quite some time, and I’m excited to see what Oshetsky writes next.