A Funeral for an Owl

Narrated by Alix Dunmore
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Pub Date 30 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 29 Sep 2021

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A schoolyard stabbing sends wingbeats echoing from the past. One shocking event. Two teachers risk their careers to help a boy who has nothing. Three worlds intersect and collide.

The best way to avoid trouble, thinks Ayisha Emmanuelle, is to avoid confrontation. As an inner-city schoolteacher, she does a whole lot of avoidance.

14-year-old Shamayal Thomas trusts no one. Not the family, not the gang. And at school, trusting people is forbidden.

Jim Stevens teaches history. Haunted by his own, he still believes everyone can learn from the past. History doesn’t always have to repeat itself.

A powerful exploration of the ache of loss set in a landscape where broken people can heal each other.

Fresh, funny, heartbreaking and real, this original and compassionate study of when to break the rules and why is perfect for fans of Maggie O'Farrell, Rachel Joyce and Ali Smith.

A schoolyard stabbing sends wingbeats echoing from the past. One shocking event. Two teachers risk their careers to help a boy who has nothing. Three worlds intersect and collide.

The best way to...

Advance Praise

‘If you want to laugh and cry and stamp and cheer – all in the space of a few hours – then this book is the one for you.’ - Bookmuse

‘If you want to laugh and cry and stamp and cheer – all in the space of a few hours – then this book is the one for you.’ - Bookmuse

Available Editions

EDITION Audiobook, Unabridged
ISBN 9788726902679
PRICE £10.99 (GBP)
DURATION 10 Hours, 18 Minutes


Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (AUDIO)

Average rating from 14 members

Featured Reviews

What a powerful story, told from three very different perspectives, this is an audiobook I listened to through the night. It kept me absolutely engrossed. A teacher, Jim, is stabbed in the school playground just as the kids are streaming out on the last day of term. A young Asian colleague, Ayishea, is first on the scene and she arrives to see the victim bleeding profusely from a chest wound, his head cradled by a black pupil, Shamayal. These three are inextricably linked by the event and by the past. Ayishea is struggling to make her own life, away from strong parental influence and familial expectations. Her character is acutely observed and from the start, I felt great sympathy for her. She’s faced with a moral safeguarding dilemma and this plays out as the story unfolds. How will she deal with this challenge? It’s easy to understand her conflicts. Jim is a history teacher with a troubled background. He made good and became a teacher but through flashback, we learn of the challenges he faced and how he dealt with them. His good deed fior a pupil one wet, cold night has repercussions. Shamayal has a dysfunctional family; a drunken father, missing mother and he’s learned to trust no one. He too has a voice that resonates as we listen to his take on life. He’s very well portrayed and key to the plot. This is the first book I’ve come across by Jane Davis, but I find she’s written others which I’ll be looking out. Her writing is lyrical and she has a real ear for dialogue, capturing every nuance of street patois used by Shamayal, and also keeps the listener totally engaged. It’s a story with a heart where following an act of appalling violence, we see the intrinsic good in people. I loved the whole story, it has a ring of truth and remains carefully plotted so it’s difficult to know how it will pan out. Pity this seems to have fallen under the radar a bit, it deserves a wider audience. I listened to the audio version and the narration throughout was outstanding. My thanks to the publisher for a review copy via Netgalley

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I am grateful to #NetGalley and the publisher for introducing me to the work of Jane Davis, the author of A Funeral for an Owl. A Funeral for an Owl is a layered literary novel with charm and humor as well as harsh realism. The mixture of uplift and grit is something only an accomplished author could pull off; and I will certainly read more of Davis’s work. Funeral for an Owl begins with a schoolyard fight, in which teacher Jim Stevens is stabbed while trying to intervene. His life is saved by prompt aid from fellow teacher Ayisha Emmanuelle and student Shamayal Thomas. Ayisha and Shamayal visit Jim regularly during his 6 week hospital stay, despite Ayisha’s dismay at the revelation of the existing friendship between Jim and Shamayal. Middle-class emigre Ayisha is a rule-follower, and there is a strict rule (surprising to an American) against any fraternization at all between teachers and students. But, starting with an offered ride on a rainy day, Jim has befriended Shamayal in part because Shamayal’s haphazard parenting and violent surroundings mirror Jim’s own inner-city childhood, which was made bearable by his love of bird-watching and his brief friendship with a privileged girl called Aimee. Shamayal’s intelligence and cheeky wit enliven the book and captivate Ayisha against her will, linking Jim and Ayisha in their attempt to save Shamayal. But the real movement of the book comes from the gradual unfolding of Jim’s past, and the book alternates between Jim’s twelfth summer in 1992 and Shamayal’s peril in 2010. All of the characters are well-drawn, and the reader has no trouble empathizing with them and rooting for positive outcomes. Davis is too skilled to provide a cliché’d happy ending, but through the intervention of several surprising helpers, the book leaves the reader with a bittersweet appreciation of human goodwill in the midst of human struggle. I can heartily recommend this book. Nevertheless, there were certain jarring aspects, more likely the fault of the publisher than the author. For one thing, this book was billed as a mystery/thriller—and it is neither. Also, though the narrator of this audiobook was excellent, particularly with dialect, the frequent point of view switches were sometimes confusing. Additionally my copy stuttered occasionally, and it repeated Chapter One as Chapter Fifty. If this is to be newly released as an audiobook, I would suggest careful audio editing and the inclusion of more clues as to point of view. It would be a shame if poor audio prevented listeners from enjoying this excellent book.

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A Funeral for an Owl - Jane Davis Narrated by Alix Dunmore I received an advance review copy for free thanks to NetGalley and Saga Egmont Audio and I am leaving this review voluntarily A schoolyard stabbing sends wingbeats echoing from the past. One shocking event. Two teachers risk their careers to help a boy who has nothing. Three worlds intersect and collide. The best way to avoid trouble, thinks Ayisha Emmanuelle, is to avoid confrontation. As an inner-city schoolteacher, she does a whole lot of avoidance. 14-year-old Shamayal Thomas trusts no one. Not the family, not the gang. And at school, trusting people is forbidden. The way that this book is written it was impossible not to be sucked into the story - your emotions are played with and things don't turn out how you expect them too. The story jumps between 2010 and 1992, but this is done in a way that is very easy to follow. A beautifully written story that will hold your attention until the very end. A pleasure to read and I would highly recommend this book to fans of literary fiction. Rating 4/5

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Funeral for an Owl begins with a fight in a school playground on the last day of term – teacher Jim Stevens attempts to break it up & gets stabbed in the process. His colleague Ayisha is first on the scene and she arrives to see Jim bleeding profusely from a chest wound, his head being held by a pupil, Shamayal. The story unfolds through these three very different perspectives: * Jim is a history teacher with a troubled background. He came from “the wrong side of the tracks” but eventually was able to move on to become a teacher. We discover a lot more about Jim & his character through flashbacks to the summer of 1992 when Jim was 11 years old and trying to fill his summer holidays with something other than hanging around with the local gangs that his brother was involved with. * Shamayal is a student at the school where Jim & Ayisha teach. He has a drunken father, a mother who left and as a young black kid from an estate he’s learned to trust nobody. Shamayal’s language, thoughts and behaviours are exceptionally well developed – as we find out more about him, he becomes more & more believable and his story starts to resonate. * Ayisha is a young Asian teacher who is struggling to find her place in the world – living away from her traditional family for the first time we see her struggling with the concept of right & wrong, when is it ok the break the rules? Whilst I can totally understand the character of Ayisha & her approach to things, her lack of confidence and dithering did not endear her to me – I found her to be shallow, cold and quite aimless which was quite a contrast to the strong portrayals of Jim (both now and as an 11 yr old), Shamayal and many of the other peripheral characters such as Jim’s mother, and “Bins” a local character who knows everyone on the estate by the nick-names he gives them but is unable to recognise faces. * Aimee is the fourth key character in the book and was a 13 yr old girl that Jim befriended in the summer of 1992. They spent much of the time together, but what happened to leave such an impact on Jim’s life 20 years later? I liked the time jumps which worked very well in this book. As Jim recovers in hospital, he remembers his childhood, the positives but also the hurts, the betrayals of those closest to him. We meet Aimee, a privileged 13 yr old that Jim had a brief friendship with back in 1992 and also start to understand Jim’s connection to Shamayal and his desire to help the teen stay out of trouble. Ayisha visits Jim in hospital because he doesn’t really have anyone else, yet it is only through the flashbacks into Jim’s past that we start to understand why he is reluctant to become close to Ayisha despite their mutual attraction. Overall this is a well-written multi-layered story that you will not want to put down – it plays with your emotions & sense of right and wrong, and weaves together people who would not ordinarily have become friends (male & female, teen & adult, teacher & student, White/Asian/Black, from “the wrong side of the tracks” and the more privileged areas). I listened to the audiobook and the narrator differentiated between the characters really well and the voice/patois of Shamayal was perfect! In many ways this is a 5* book, however one of the challenges for me, as somebody who works in a school, is the way that the “rules” around safeguarding are handled. Whilst it adds to the story in many ways, it feels as though the author has not got up to date knowledge of this and it does somewhat ruin the credibility for me. I sympathized with the characters and had the whole story run over a few days I could have accepted it but it could never have continued for this length of time. The ending wasn’t what I expected. I was pleased that it didn’t finish weakly with an “everyone lived happily ever after”, but at the same time the ending left me wanting more … it just seemed to stop suddenly & whilst I appreciate that the author wanted to leave the reader with more questions, it would have worked better for me if it had just been Jim & Ayisha present, not on a school trip.

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A Funeral for an Owl was like having your friend order a cocktail you know you’re going to hate but then you are completely surprised to find out that it’s quite yummy. I didn’t know what to expect and went in blind. I felt like it started out slow and I was a little confused at first about the time lines, but after that I caught on quite well and really enjoyed it. It had characters I would love to have friendships with and was won over by their past which made them who they were now. The story revealed how vulnerable and lonely we sometimes are and made me want to do better. This ended up being a very satisfying read and I recommend it. I choose to listen to this book on audio and was narrated by Alix Dunmore who was very good. This was 10 hours and 18 mins of enjoyable listening. Thanks Saga Egmont Audio via Netgalley.

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This was a tough one to review. I’m still at a loss about where to begin. My usual “Nutshell” summation escapes me. So I’ll just start by saying: I LOVED this book, but it is not for everyone. Read on to see if this book will work for you. Story: The story comes to us from multiple perspectives and over multiple timelines. Ayisha, July 2010 onwards – A high school teacher, the story begins with her discovering that one of her colleagues, Jim Steven, has been stabbed in broad daylight in the school grounds. There’s a big group of stunned students surrounding him, but no one wants to confess what happened. Ayisha chooses Shamayal, one of the students, to assist her in proving first aid to Jim until the authorities arrive. But when she later discovers that Shamayal and Jim are friends, she wonders if she should report her colleague to the educational authorities. Why does she hesitate? What makes her, a strict rule-abider, go against her fundamental nature to help Jim and Shamayal? Shamayal, April 2010 onwards – At fourteen, Shamayal is living his life on his own. His mother has long abandoned him, and his father, with whom he resides, has more interest in alcohol and women than in his son. When his history teacher Jim spots him in the bleak hours of the night wandering the streets, Jim realises that he may have many things in common with this lad who wears a brave mask to cover his struggles. But does Shamayal want his teacher’s support in his life when he wants to be seen as independent? Jim, 1990 and 2010 – Jim has a difficult childhood, with only his mother as a constant, loving presence. His father and his brother are criminals and walk in and out of his life. When he discovers Aimee, he feels kinship with her as she too seems to have family struggles. While they indulge together in Jim’s favourite hobby of bird-watching, their friendship seems to become stronger. But soon something happens that casts a shadow over their lives. Will their friendship recover? Can a boy and a girl have a perfectly platonic friendship without anyone spoiling it for them? In 2010, Jim is struggling to recover from the stabbing. But he realises that the problem is far from over as the culprit is still out there. How will his life be upturned by this unexpected incident? The book starts with Jim’s stabbing. But if you think that takes precedence over everything else in the narrative, you have it wrong. The stabbing is incidental to the main plot. This book isn’t a crime investigation; it is to know how the horrifying incident affected the lives of the people mentioned above. This is a book you read not for thrills or action or adventure. This is a book to be read for is characters. What a well-rounded effort by the author in bringing those characters to life! The individual character voices are written so well that you are left in no doubt of their personality and the reasons behind their actions at any point during the story. Each character is as real as you can get, with imperfections and internal conflicts. Each is trying to figure the others out beyond the outward facade that they put on for the world. All three main characters are survivors in their own way. Their past environment moulded them into who they are in the present, and each of them is a testimony to how nature and nurture work in shaping personalities. I must mention two secondary characters who don’t appear much in the story but who will still make their presence felt: Ayisha’s mother and the vagrant Bins. In fact, Bins will probably enter my list of all-time favourite secondary characters in a book. If you are the kind of reader who wants action on every page, this book won’t work for you. It is a literary fiction, so it’s obviously not for everyone, and it must be picked up in the right mood. It proceeds at its pace, it focusses more on the people than the plot progression, and yet, the narrative moves forward steadily. I was mesmerised by the story, the writing and most of all, the three main characters. I was initially confused about why Ayisha viewed Jim’s closeness with Shamayal as a problem, but the story suggests that personal connections between teachers and students are strictly barred in the UK. Once you get your head around that, her reactions are justifiable. The title has a significant role to play in the plot, but I don’t want to reveal the connection here. Just know that it refers to a key turning point in the story. The sudden and unexpected ending left me feeling deprived, I wanted more, I wanted to know what happened next! It was like being taken to a high point and left there to survive on your own. That’s the reason I didn’t review the book immediately. I wanted to process my feelings for it. Now, almost a day later, I realise that the book ended at just the right point. Events in life don’t always tie themselves in neat, resolved packages; why must books? The characters are still in my mind a day later; isn’t that the mark of a great story? To sum up, this is not your typical run-of-the-mill novel, it's a well-written character study that includes a commentary on society and its prejudices. If you ever want to read a book to know how characters ought to be sketched, please give this a try. Much recommended for literary fiction readers. 4.5 stars from me. I heard the audiobook with the three main characters narrated by Alix Dunmore, Alix Dunmore and Alix Dunmore and the secondary characters voiced by Alix Dunmore. Does that give you a clue of how impressed I was with her performance? What a performance! Every accent, spot on. Every individual character, distinct. Every dialogue delivery, perfect. I would have loved the book even if I were reading it. (I’m absolutely sure of this; I love well-written and realistic characters.) But she took the book even further with her narration. Not once did I have to rewind in the 10 hrs 18 min long audiobook. (And this hardly ever happens! The “loop back 30 seconds” is the second most used button on my app, after the Play/Pause button.) Of course, if you get confused with multiple timelines and multiple character perspectives, it might make more sense to read the book than to hear it. As far as I’m concerned, either method would work just fine for this story. Thank you, Saga Egmont Audio and NetGalley, for the audio ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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