Claire Oshetsky – Chouette

Over the past few years I have been reading some excellent books on motherhood; from the multi generational aspect used in Burnt Sugar to the more visceral The Bitch . Claire Oshetsky’s Chouette is another novel which takes motherhood and gives it a fresh (and occasionally fearsome) perspective.

The main protagonist, Tiny is pregnant and, as stated in the beginning, she thinks it’s a female owl who impregnated her. As the book proceeds the owl metaphor becomes stronger and takes on different meanings. At this stage Tiny is worried about her pregnancy and is reflecting on what it means to be carrying a baby. During an ultrasound Tiny notices that her foetus is birdlike. Thus the owl also represents a potential problem.

Unlike most motherhood narratives, the father is included in the narrative. Here he is presented as the antithesis to his partner. He dismisses his wife for fussing and ignores her pleas for help.

When the actual birth happens, we discover that the child may have some sort of problem. Once again the bird motif is strong. once again the husband tries to normalise the situation but these plans backfire due to the child’s problems. Some are brutal, some with gory results but the fine line between reality and fantasy are crossed quite a few times.

By the end of Chouette the owl occurs as a metaphor for trauma and the narrator describes an event which provides a sort of closure for the reader.

Chouette is surreal at times but it’s also an expansive novel. By this I mean Claire Oshetsky, not only includes pregnancy and birth but psychological effects and the husband’s involvement in mother. At times this book does feel highly personal. Also, like the many works of contemporary/experimental music mentioned (as Tiny is a cellist) the book moves and shifts in the same way.

One her Goodreads page, Claire Oshetsky, under her Lark Benobi alias states that Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an influence. I can see that. Like that book, Chouette balances moments of ugliness with beautiful ones. Either way, this is an unforgettable novel.

Many thanks to Virago for providing a copy of Chouette

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