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An exhilarating, provocative novel of motherhood in extremis

Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. “You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” she warns him. “This baby is an owl-baby.”

When Chouette is born small and broken-winged, Tiny works around the clock to meet her daughter’s needs. Left on her own to care for a child who seems more predatory bird than baby, Tiny vows to raise Chouette to be her authentic self. Even in those times when Chouette’s behaviors grow violent and strange, Tiny’s loving commitment to her daughter is unwavering. When she discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and increasingly dangerous quest to find a “cure” for their daughter, Tiny must decide whether Chouette should be raised to fit in or to be herself—and learn what it truly means to be a mother.

Arresting, darkly funny, and unsettling, Chouette is a brilliant exploration of ambition, sacrifice, perceptions of ability, and the ferocity of motherly love.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published November 4, 2021

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About the author

Claire Oshetsky

2 books332 followers
"Listen! I will be honest with you, I do not offer the old smooth prizes..."
- Walt Whitman

I review books here on goodreads as my fashion-conscious bibliophilic alter ego, "Lark Benobi." Come follow or friend me on my lark benobi page. if you like.

Now and then I'll be leaving reviews on goodreads as "Claire Oshetsky" but only for those books that have influenced me as a writer.

People keep asking me whether the child in the novel Chouette is meant to represent an autistic child, or a trans child, or an autistic trans child, or some other kind of child. The book is fiction. The child in the novel is an owl.

Happy Reading!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 981 reviews
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book2,136 followers
September 26, 2023
Nov 9 2021

Dear friends and fellow literary lovers,

I wrote this novel, and for now I’m going to use this space here to thank you.

Thank you for the literary worlds you’ve opened up to me over the past several years. Thank you for all the books I’ve read and loved and that I never would have known about without you recommending them to me. Thank you for all of the amazing discussions we’ve had about those books.

Because you told me I should read The Vegetarian by Han Kang I began to think about how metamorphosis could tell women’s stories in a new way.

Because you introduced me to Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin I began to think about how withholding information from the reader—letting the reader fill in the blanks with their own particular dreads and desires—can be a good way to tell a story.

Because you told me I needed to read Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, I was introduced to a ruthless story about baby-trauma and dysfunctional in-laws, one that I drew upon when I sat down to write a baby-trauma/dysfunctional in-law story of my own.

Because you told me I must read Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin and Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin, I learned that I love books about fantastic things, told matter-of-factly.

Because we’ve read David Vann’s novels together—Aquarium, Goat Mountain, Bright Air Black—I had the confidence to write scenes that were visceral, and disturbing, and to not back away from that kind of writing when the story took me there.

I've led a quiet life where for many years I was busy taking care of parents and children. It wasn't easy. My dad kept getting kicked out of assisted living centers. My children kept getting kicked out of schools. For years my mom thought I was trying to murder her. I had very little time to do anything, or to make friends in real life--but I had time to read, and to make friends here.

I haven’t known many writers, but you introduced me to a world of them.

Thank you.
Profile Image for Melissa ~ Bantering Books.
251 reviews1,019 followers
December 3, 2021
Be sure to visit Bantering Books to read all my latest reviews.

“It’s a wonder that any woman ever agrees to be a mother, when the fruits of motherhood are inevitably conflict and remorse, to be followed by death and disembowelment.”

Chouette is not for the faint of motherhood. Or for those with weak stomachs.

The book is bizarre. Claire Oshetsky’s debut novel about a woman who gives birth to an owl-baby is one of the oddest – yet most captivating – books I’ve ever read. It’s dark, unnerving, and gruesome. And it’s an incisive, provocative exploration of what it really means to be a mother. The blood, sweat, and tears of it.

Chouette is meant to be read as a parable. (I think.) But some may read it either as a tale of fantasy and magical realism or as an examination of a woman’s fragile mental state.

To me, Chouette is one big metaphor for motherhood. It’s motherhood from the perspective of a woman who sees the world differently, as she views it from her somewhat skewed reality.

And Oshetsky nails it:

The fierceness of mother-love;
The self-sacrifice;
The utter devotion;
The inability to see a child’s flaws;
The isolation of being left home with a baby;
The longing for a child to not grow up;
The grief felt when a child leaves home.

I could go on.

Yet there’s still more. For not only is the novel a tale of the trials of motherhood, but it’s also a story of acceptance and authenticity. It’s about how to live a true life.

Chouette is thoughtful and raw. Humorous and horrific. Poignant and disquieting.

Validating, too. As a mother, I feel understood.

My sincerest appreciation to Claire Oshetsky, Ecco, and NetGalley for the electronic Advance Review Copy. All opinions included herein are my own.

Bantering Books

Profile Image for Jaidee.
607 reviews1,204 followers
April 18, 2022
5 "provocative, startling, liberating" stars !!

2021 Honorable Mention with High Distinction Read

My thanks to Netgalley, the author and Ecco publishing for an e-copy. This will be released November 2021. I am providing my honest review.

This is a novel that bombards the senses. This is a novel that defies genres. This is a novel that challenges your notions of what a good life is or even a good-enough life. This is a novel that challenges your ideas of what suburban oppression does to women, the queer, the psychiatric, the physically disabled.

Tiny is small in stature and she gives birth to an owl baby. She conceived this baby with a woman, a bird woman. Tiny has always been different. Tiny has lots of rage that plays with her mental health, her quality of life but Tiny can mother. She can mother and protect and foster her owl baby while continuing to be oppressed for her sensibilities, her values, her sexuality, her background.

Tiny vacillates between conforming and succumbing to melancholia and desolation to treasuring her own worth, her queerness, and valuing that her owl baby is different. Together mother and daughter feast on what nature intended them while continuing to be oppressed by the medical establishment, by patriarchy, by heterosexism, by bland nothingness.

Tiny and Chouette (her owl baby) are both queens and together they will take on their suburbs, their world and not be beaten down by wonder bread, by judgement, by what is the "right" way to live.

This is suburban horror mixed with psychological insights, sociological understandings and a trip to the dark fierce parts that lay within all of us.

Fucking brilliant and brave Ms. Oshetsky ! A novel that will disgust, tantalize, challenge and an antidote to the shame that lies dormant in many of us.

Ps...listen to the music mentioned throughout the novel (you won't be sorry)

Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,183 followers
July 26, 2022
The novel Chouette is a parable about motherhood as I experienced it… My expression of what it was like to be a mother of two non-conforming children… children who are remarkable in ways that other people don't always understand or have patience for.” - claireoshetsky.com

When I was pregnant, I was ineligible for NHS Down’s screening because I was under 30, and anyway, amniocentesis has a risk of miscarriage. I saw an ad for insurance against various congenital conditions. We didn’t buy it: it was expensive, complicated, pessimistic, and disability can come out of the blue, later. With a first child, we were more accepting of fate than if we already had a child whose life would be impacted. Our optimism was also influenced by Emily Perl Kingsley’s poem, Welcome to Holland, which was shared in our NCT ante-natal class.

At birth, our baby’s most distinctive feature was their extraordinary quantity of long, thick, dark hair. As our child grew up, they and we delighted in being a bright spark who was a tad eccentric. At age 19, our kid came out as non-binary gender. It wasn’t much of a surprise, but that’s when we had a taste of supporting and advocating for a child with a difference that not everyone understands or accepts.


The opening lines are:
I dream I am making tender love with an owl. The next morning I see talon marks across my chest that trace the path of my owl-lover’s embrace. Two weeks later I learned that I am pregnant.
You may wonder: How could such a thing come to pass between woman and owl?
I, too, am astounded, because my owl-lover was a woman.

Chouette (French for “owl”, and youth slang for “cool”) is always described by her mother as an “owl-baby”, in contrast to neurotypical “dog-people”. She is scarily, disturbingly, and sometimes disgustingly, different from the worst nightmares of a parasitic pregnancy or severely disabled child.

Image: Owl diet, digestion, and excretion is not for the squeamish (Source)

But Chouette’s mother loves her, even as she feels (and is told) she’s an inadequate mother. Extreme as this is, it's relatable - and magical.

Metaphorical truth

The other wives speak in concrete word-bricks, whereas I prefer to speak in metaphor: That way, no logic can trap me.
This is key. The novel is Tiny addressing her daughter: describing her conception, birth, and life, with a bit of her own backstory. Tiny could be mad (there are mentions of past mental health issues), magical, or, as she says, metaphorical. It’s too fantastical to be true in the literal sense, and the analogy, along with poetic language, create just enough distance to make the potential horror palatable. Like venerated myths and sacred texts, it holds deep and universal truths.

Acceptance vs intervention

Your father wants to fix you and I want us to love you as you are.
This is the tension at the heart of the book. It’s not usually a binary choice, but the extent to which society should adapt to embrace and facilitate difference or individuals should learn (be forced?) to be closer to societal norms is always controversial: alleged “cures” for things like autism and homosexuality, cochlear implants for babies, trans rights, euthanasia, and cosmetic surgery. Hope and aspirations are good, but deluded hope is dangerous.

Is the proposed treatment more like giving insulin to a diabetic or clipping the wings of a wild bird?

Image: Clipping the wings of a chicken. Just the photo makes me wince, and it’s not even a wild bird. (Source)

This book is viscerally raw and beautiful horror - sometimes gory and graphic, but poetic too. Don’t read it if you’re pregnant or a squeamish vegetarian. Tiny is often revolted by and afraid of her daughter, but she’s determined to protect her from family and the world:
I was afraid of you, and yet I want to be a refuge for you.
She wants Chouette to be free to be herself:
I need to remind myself many times that owls are not social creatures. You’re a born predator.
In the process, Tiny becomes fiercely owlish herself:
No one thinks of me as having talons of my own.


In the penultimate chapter, it jumps the shark and changes genre. Until that point, I was expecting it to be a full 5*, but I knocked one off because of the jarring switch. But see lark benobi's (the author's reviewing account) explanation in the comments below (currently #28).


Anonymity keeps one foot in the gloaming, even when the other is in the gleaming. Tiny may be a childhood nickname that stuck, or her real name. She calls her daughter Chouette, but everyone else calls her Charlotte. No one else is named at all.


The music bullies me down the long hallway and pushes me out into the world.
Tiny is a classical cellist and the book is infused with music - including a playlist at the back. Music is a bridge and battleground between her and Chouette. Colour matters, too, and there are hints of synaesthesia.

Image: Colourful sounds alongside a cello (Source)

Quotes about colo(u)rs

In the first 100 pages, there are many startling mentions, but almost none in the remaining 140 pages.

• “My stew is simmering on the stove and its vapors tint the air the color of dog-skin and I can barely see the truth of things.”

• “The walls are the color of cleaned-up blood.”

• “The colors in this room look subtly hostile.”

• “A putty-colored house.”

• “Her playing is filled with otherworldly colors.”

• “My doctor’s eyes are the color of canola oil, his eyebrows are the color of sour cream.”

• “My husband’s childhood was the color of fresh laundry, and the voice of his childhood was the voice of his mother calling him to supper. My childhood was the color of blood, and the voice of my childhood was the voice of wild crepuscular things rejoicing in the dusk.”

Other quotes

• “Maybe all new mothers feel this way, but at least those other new mothers have continual reassurance, from friends and family, that their babies are both adorable and worth the trouble of keeping alive.”

• “Housekeeping is nothing more than a losing encounter with entropy.”

• “My life becomes a row of tiny memory-pearls, strung along a limpid string.”

• “Every day you wrench me toward a different world altogether: an older world, filled with wild, perfect creatures, singing in the dark.”

See also

• Oshetsky said “I wrote Chouette in part as a personal response to Doris Lessing's novel The Fifth Child”.
See her review of it HERE.
See my review of it HERE.

• Oshetsky was thinking of Marian Engel’s Bear when she started to write this.
See her review of it HERE.
See my review of it HERE.

• Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, which I reviewed HERE.

• Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, featuring a crow, which I reviewed HERE.

• Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, which I reviewed HERE.

• Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which I reviewed HERE.

• Amal El-Mohtar’s The Truth About Owls, which mentions Blodeuwedd, who was turned into an owl. I reviewed it HERE.

• Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which I reviewed HERE.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
296 reviews2,173 followers
November 20, 2021
‘I’m pregnant with an owl-baby. Everyone is a little bit repelled by me. Everyone is a little bit uncomfortable.’

Chouette is a visceral contemporary fairy tale about difference, acceptance, and the epic blood-and-guts struggles of child-rearing. I could say I devoured this book in a day… but it would be more accurate to say this book devoured me.

I’m not a parent, and as a general rule, I find novels about motherhood unappealing. They tend to be either too cloyingly sentimental, or they are written in an obviously targeted way, conveying nuggets of wisdom or winking humour clearly intended for an ‘in the know’ reader, ie mothers. Both of these approaches leave me unable to connect.

Not only does Chouette NOT do these things, it’s the first time a novel has really conveyed to me—not on an intellectual level, but on a deeply emotional one—the experience of falling desperately in love with your child to the point of devoting your whole self to them. Love that is strenuous and asymmetrical and importunate. Motherhood that is cacophonous and mucky and jubilant. Sharp claws and soft feathers.

‘One day you won’t need me, Chouette. It’s only natural. The day will come when you feast upon my liver and fly away, leaving the rest of me for the scavengers. It’s a wonder that any woman ever agrees to be a mother, when the fruits of motherhood are inevitably conflict and remorse, to be followed by death and disembowelment.’

I loved this book. I loved its conviction, its ferocity, its bravery, and its humour. One of this year’s best for sure. 5 stars.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
November 16, 2021

even though i had already read and enjoyed The Book of Dog, a novel by the same-brain/different nom de plume as this one, i had my doubts going in

that cover 👍
but it's about birds 👎
and it's about motherhood 👎*
but it's about a human mother who gives birth to an owl baby 👍
and it opens with a quote from Eraserhead 👍

i figured i would read this and it would be fine but not really my kind of thing and i would write a carefully-phrased and polite review and that would be that.

but nooooo, i had to go and genuinely enjoy this book for its unsentimental tone, its magical realism style, the musicality of its language (including a few word-strangers i had to look up), and the goddamn ease of its storytelling.

it's just...lovely. i mean, it isn't hearts and flowers lovely; the book is riddled with dark predatory scenes, but it's not horror, it's just...nature.

it is indeed about a woman named tiny who gives birth to an owl-baby called chouette, and you're welcome to read it as a metaphor of the challenges of raising a special-needs child against the callousness of the world and paternal disgust, but for me, it's wayyy more fun to take it at face value—a child born to hunt, whose tantrums are not like all the other little girls', a wild creature from whom a mother cannot expect to receive any recognizable signs of affection, who cannot communicate their needs as a human baby ("dog-baby") does, whose inner life will always be a complete mystery.

ain't no What to Expect When You're Expecting an Owl-Baby to prepare anyone for this.

Parents underestimate what owl-babies can do, and I realize I've been guilty of making the same mistake myself. I've been listening too much to your father, who is preoccupied by the way you keep missing typical dog-baby developmental targets, like sits alone without support, when you don't even bend in the middle, or displays social smile, when your mouth is as hard as a beak, or uses spoon to feed self, when you rip and tear and gorge on food without need of a spoon.

Nowhere in the developmental targets have I ever read: feeds self by killing small domesticated animals.

I'd like to see your dog-cousins try that.

motherhood is a life-changing experience, but even more so here, where tiny has to adjust her thinking towards the specific needs of an owl-baby, becoming attuned to her daughter's primal nature, and adapting the typical parenting advice to nurture the traits that will allow chouette to thrive.

and, yes, it does draw from that conventional narrative well where a mother's fierce protective love for her child manifests in heroic deeds, activating that maternal impulse to "fight, kill, or die" for their child's well-being.

but it also manifests in creative problem-solving; purchasing and freezing large quantities of pinkie mice and releasing live snakes in the living room so that chouette can earn the "prey" in her "bird of prey" status, their home turning gradually into a vibrant ecosystem designed to stimulate and develop her daughter's natural skills, recognizing that imposing her own value system on chouette would do her a great disservice:

Today you hunted down a juvenile pocket gopher in the backyard. Your timing was off. At first you only injured it. Its little back legs were broken. It tried to drag itself along toward the safety of a nearby gopher hole, by clutching at the dirt and blades of grass with its front paws and pulling itself along. You hopped along after it, deliriously happy, pecking at its middle parts, until its guts were spilling out. The small thing kept on trying to endure, and to make it to the safety of the gopher hole. You had no qualms about causing another living creature to suffer. I didn't interfere—that would teach you the wrong lesson—but I was wrenched by the experience, and shaken by your lack of compassion. I needed to remind myself many times that owls are not social creatures. You're a born predator. I need to repress my intermittent dog-thinking, and to remind myself that, to be the best owl-baby you can be, you don't need to learn compassion. You need to learn ruthless, solitary strength.

But it was all I could do to not go over there and put the little thing out of its misery.

it's brutal and beautiful and brilliant and i loved it.

i also loved the author's the author's open thank you letter to goodreaders in her review-space for this book (👍 👍 👍), particularly the part where she says:

Because you told me I must read Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin and The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin, I learned that I love books about fantastic things, told matter-of-factly.

that's exactly what she has achieved with Chouette, and apparently i love those things, too.

* i'm not against motherhood themes per se, but novels that announce themselves as being celebrations of motherhood are generally variations of the same emotion-by-numbers story around glad sacrifices and quiet ennobled suffering with occasional moments of joy or pride and it's all very trite and familiar and dull. if i'm gonna read a novel self-identifying as a 'meditation on motherhood,' there better be something fresh brought to the mix, like—oh, i don't know—make the baby an owl or something.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Fran.
662 reviews636 followers
July 5, 2021
"Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love, but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday."
-Khalil Gibran

The owl-baby was a product of a mixed mating from an interlude with an owl-lover. Tiny, the birth mother, mourned for her past life as a professional cellist. Life as a musician would be placed on hold. Her owl-baby Chouette would be "in charge" for the foreseeable future. Despite Tiny's owl-lover's plea for her to return to the gloaming where she spent part of her childhood, a place where she was truly loved, Tiny chose to stay with her husband.

Raising owl-baby Chouette was a harrowing experience. "...surrounded by [a] bright, bold gaggle of birds, I'm overcome with the beauty of the wild world and I weep a little to think that the owl-baby chose me...I begin to understand what a gift I've been given...The truth overwhelms me, and humbles me. The birds are telling me that my life's work, as your mother, will be to teach you how to be yourself- and to honor however much of the wild world you have in you...rather than mold you to be what I want you to be, or what your father wants you to be." My husband wanted to inhabit "a world of dependable right angles." He wanted conformity. As an avoidance technique, he worked long hours in order to be absent from home as much as possible. Tiny needed to embrace unusual and different techniques to care for her three pound owl-baby girl. These included baths using a stockpot as a bathtub and providing a diet of "pinkie mice" to feed Chouette's animalistic appetite.

Tiny worked around the clock to learn the body rhythms of her newborn daughter. No friends or family visited, horrified by Chouette's uniqueness. Chouette was excluded from family gatherings. For a while, music was succor to mother and child. Tiny played the cello with Chouette's dissonant accompaniment on the marimba.

Owl-baby "will never learn to speak...never learn to read...the father can see no single thing in this child that reminds him of himself. He seeks a remedy...a fix created by medical science. Chouette is "wild...violent. She doesn't have a nose. People are afraid of her. No one visits us any longer." He is on a mission, a crusade to change Chouette into a socially acceptable little girl. Tiny fights him tooth and nail. She wants to help her owl-baby embrace her individuality.

Motherhood changes everything. It is no longer about you. Children must come first as demonstrated by Tiny's quest to be a classical cellist a dream, now placed on the back burner. Motherhood's exciting, frightening, sleepless journey was magnified by trials and missteps, trying to find the right balance when raising a child with special needs. Tiny often felt physically and emotionally abandoned by a husband who exerted constant pressure on her to authorize his attempts to find a miracle treatment to normalize Chouette's behavior so she would take her place in conventional society. Eventually, Chouette would spread her wings and fly.

"Chouette" by Claire Oshetsky is a timeless study of the fierceness of "mother love" to protect one's children. Mistakes will be made. Decisions might continue to be at odds with one's partner. Irregardless, the time will come when children, both human and animal, will leave home and strike out on their own, listening to the beat of their own drum. Author Claire Oshetsky, a gifted writer, presents a journey into motherhood infused with music, emotion, longing and regrets. The cover art enhances this beautiful, heartfelt tome.

Thank you Claire Oshetsky and Ecco/HarperCollins Publishing for the physical ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Terrie  Robinson.
446 reviews718 followers
November 18, 2021
"Chouette" by Claire Oshetsky is an oddly compelling read!

What the heck did I just read? Wow! This story is over-the-top! So why couldn't I put it down? Why do I keep thinking about it?

Could it be the beautiful writing or the intermittent humor that makes me smile and laugh unexpectedly? Or, is it the creativeness of the story, referring to a non-conforming child as an owl-baby and everyone else as dog-people?

Is it the resilience of this mother and child relationship through their journey together? Or, is it the father's obsession as his mission to fix Chouette becomes scary?

Chouette is born demanding, wild, violent and strange. Her mother, wants her to be her true self. Her father desperately wants to find a cure for her.

A story that's a bit different, it holds me, then it captures me! It's a story that makes my brain bop around in my head like a pinball machine! Yep! It's that crazy!

For most, this may seem like a strange and dark read. What it is though is a beautifully written and unique story about being different than the expected norm. It's about how a mother's love for her child sustains her. How her selflessness and unwavering commitment to her daughter's well-being keeps her whole and completes her.

This novel is a brilliant piece of fiction that I highly recommend to all who enjoy quirky, different reads. Ones that make you think and continue to long after you're finished. Think so hard that your head feels like it might blow-off and your eyeballs might pop-out. That's exactly how I feel and I simply love this story!

All the stars!

Thank you to NetGalley, Ecco, and Claire Oshetsky for a free ARC of this book. It has been an honor to give my honest and voluntary review. This book is available now.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews627 followers
May 26, 2021
“Chouette”, ......
by Claire Oshetsky
......is a monumental tawny tiny hooting feat — daring and remarkable —exceptionally creative, original, and affecting.,
It’s one of the most intimate novels I’ve read all year.....cutting deep into the core of motherhood.
Claire turns the implausible into entirely believable fiction ....while gracefully sticking pin cushions into our global-mothering hearts.

Tiny is a professional musician, a cellist.
Her husband is a property lawyer in the patented-seed field.
They live in Sacramento California
All sounds normal enough.....right? Perhaps...perhaps not. But what’s normal anyway?

“My husband has just stopped reading the news on his phone because just now I got the words out past my lips that I’ve been wanting to say to him all morning, which are”:
“Help me”.
“There it’s done. I’ve said it.
The word rights itself”.
“He reaches across the table and grabs my hand”.
“What is it? He says. What’s on your mind? I love you. I’m here to help”.
“You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all, I say. This baby is an owl-baby”.
“Oh honey, honey, honey, my husband says. That’s the jitters talking. Don’t listen. I’m here for you. I love you”.

She and her husband play gin rummy after dinner together.
She tells her husband:
“It’s an owl-baby.
“Honey, my husband says.
Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t revisit the past. You’re stronger than you know”.

“I dream I am making tender love with an owl. The next morning I see talon marks across my chest that trace the path of my owl-lovers embrace. Two weeks later I learned that I am pregnant”.
“You may wonder: How could such a thing come to pass between women and owl?”
“I, too, am astounded, because my owl-lover was a woman”.

“An owl-baby is born. The baby will never learn to speak, or love, or look after itself. It will never learn to read or toss the football. The father can see no single thing in this child that reminds him of himself. He thinks: ‘This isn’t fair to me’. And then he leaves. The mother stays”. The owl-baby bite my tongue”.

This book is so darn remarkable, — ENGAGING—- I can’t believe how much I enjoyed the oddness —that in many ways —just ‘didn’t’ feel that odd to me at all.
Perhaps, I’m the crazy one .... but this story felt more raw & real to me than many memoirs.
The storytelling provided the truest satisfactions of reading.
.....We learn about Tiny’s husband - 6 feet tall; the shortest of his six sibling brothers.
.....We learn about Tiny’s in-laws and her husbands brother - and their wives.
.....We learn about Tiny as a child - her father, mother, the town she grew up in, a painful memoir day at the zoo....
wrenching - sad - untrue, and unfair cruel abusive messages she took in from both her own family growing up and from the way her mother-in-law made her feel [an outlier, tiny, fragile, unwanted, just not good enough].
.....Once Tiny was pregnant, struggling with many concerns ... she felt as though she was getting a message from her ‘owl-baby’.....letting Tiny know that ‘she’ was in charge from now on. Tiny wondered, really wondered, was this what it means to be a mother: “to be in constant, irrational conflict with one’s on child?”
.....Tiny played some Mozart music for her unborn owl-baby-asking if she liked it .....”referring to her as a little scamp”.
Soon...mother and owl-baby were no longer at odds-and she continued playing her music.

There is a trip to Berlin museum visits, cafés, and walks along the streets. Tiny runs into her owl-lover, a woman that she was once very close. She tells her she is pregnant. Tiny also realizes she made the right choice to stay with her husband, “who is kind, strong, steady, normal, even good looking”.....
“whereas her owl-lover is a giant, musky, molting, monstrous, amoral, uncivilized, and fickle”....a creature Tiny once loved.

There was a smelling problem....(I found this a little funny)
There were concert problems...
And most...
Tiny had to think seriously about the gift she had been given —chosen—to be a mother. The responsibility was overwhelming and humbling. Tiny was picking up messages from birds telling her that her life‘s work was to teach her baby how to be herself—rather than mold her to be what she or the father wanted to be.

Owl-baby....a girl....*Chouette* was born.
.....Tiny made lists of things she was learning about Chouette ....
Music was a shared love between them....
.....Tiny told Chouette stories about her childhood. She told her that she used to live with the ‘Bird of the Wood’....that she had shared a room together in a little woodland house....thought she would marry her owl-lover one day.
.....They rocked together....mother and Chouette were working it out.
motherhood is intense....so much can breakdown.
I wondered how Chouette was developing- and if Tiny was able to give her baby ‘enough’ of what she needed....(given her own background)....
I was proud of Tiny. I felt that given where she came from she couldn’t have asked anymore of herself....
I found the ending incredibly moving > Loving-Tears- good!!!!

There are horrors I haven’t mentioned along the way ...but they were necessary and damn thought provoking.

This story opens up the can of worms of just how frightening it is to enter the mysteries of mothering....but it’s vitally important to examine.
The symbolism that Claire created raised questions about the brutal realities of life!
The metaphors, the prose, the emotions, the smells, and visuals, the memorable - unique gorgeous usage of words in her sentences....
I just can’t say enough about how unforgettable and magnificent this book is!

I’d love to see book clubs choosing this book to talk about. I’d like to be in one of those groups- and would gladly read this book again to join the discussion.

ABOUT OWLS....(spiritually speaking):
Owls represent wisdom, knowledge, change, transformation, intuitive development, and trusting the mystery. They are tied to the spiritual symbolism of death, which brings about new beginnings with a higher understanding and evolved perspective. Owls can show up when you were being asked to listen to your intuition.

Claire Oshetsky was very effective in delivering an interactive-experience between her characters, motherhood, and the readers.

Profile Image for Jen CAN.
506 reviews1,488 followers
January 12, 2022
OK Outlier here.....122 pages and I'm just not feeling this one. Or I am feeling it's just too weird for me. And I'm usually good with weird. This obviously is a case of it's me not you, as I think all my GR friends loved this one. Blah. Metaphors, symbolism, imagery....call me a simpleton but this one just irritated me. Smells, eating habits, biting...just some of what I was subjected to. It almost felt like an assault. Too whacked for me. Owl babies, dog babies....babies eating dogs....Enough. Going in my DNF file and don't hate me those who loved it. I just didn't have the 'owl' vibe happening. Au revoir, Chouette!
Profile Image for Robin.
495 reviews2,736 followers
December 12, 2021
A woman becomes pregnant by her female owl-lover. Sounds a little wild, doesn't it? A little "out there"?

The strange thing though, is that this gorgeous little book is one of the most realistic depictions of motherhood I've ever read. Written in a metaphorical register, the whole thing not only works, but makes utter sense.

So. This is motherhood. I ponder it. I ponder the lonely, cruel, relentless obligation of motherhood. I ponder the loving, soft, yielding wonder of motherhood.

Claire Oshetsky tells the story of Tiny, a cellist, who, after giving birth to owl-baby Chouette, experiences the alienation that many mothers will understand, particularly those with special needs children. Her husband is absent. Her in-laws want to pretend the strange owl-baby doesn't exist. Tiny is left alone to tend to Chouette's relentless needs, but also to fall profoundly in love with her child.

Later, when her husband is totally focused on "fixing" his daughter, Tiny must be her advocate, must try to let Chouette be who she is, and love her exactly thus.

Sprinkled throughout the novel are moments of absolute comedic brilliance -- bang-on observations that had me in sheer delight. For example, this description of Tiny's mother-in-law:

My mother-in-law sees right over me. She is six feet tall and never looks down. She looks out toward the horizon instead, with an expression on her face as if she is thinking the same thought all the time, and that her thought has something to do with pioneer spirit. She married a man who wears suspenders.

This is a love story, a beautiful love story. Love isn't easy, though. They say it's all you need, but sometimes, it can almost kill you.

Bravo to Claire Oshetsky for having the grace and the courage to tell this story.
Profile Image for David.
296 reviews762 followers
October 4, 2021
This is quite a tale from the wonderful Claire Oshetsky. Chouette explores motherhood, ableism, enforced conformity, and other themes in a remarkably fresh way. There is plenty of dark humor, which makes Chouette a delightful read despite the issues it grapples with. Dog-people may not get it, but for the rest of us this is revelatory. Thanks to Ecco Books for a paperback ARC.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,826 reviews1,389 followers
January 25, 2023
Shortlistec for the Barbellion Prize.

My life becomes a row of tiny memory-pearls, strung along a limpid string. Typically, you sleep until noon. When you’re awake, I change your diaper and feed you a meal of chopped pinkie mice mixed with raw egg. After breakfast you burp up a neat pellet like clockwork. And then, in the afternoon, we’ll play music together. I’ve decided to call the sounds we make together “music.” I play my cello, and you run and peck at your little marimba. I’m never sure whether the sounds you make are intentional or whether they are accidental improvisations—a kind of found art. Either way, my days have become tolerable. It’s true that if I try to play any music on my own— music I might want to play, independent of your wishes— then you’ll fly at me and peck at my fingers and slash at the fingerboard. .... I’ve learned it’s best to follow your lead and to adapt to your tunings.

A novel by one of the most insightful reviewers of literary fiction on Goodreads (where she uses the review name Lark Benobi) – one which I think will appeal to fans of Rachel Yoder's “Night Bitch” a book I think it resembles with its intense, visceral exploration of motherhood via the medium both of animal-transformation and with a very deliberate “tightrope” walk of the fantastic between whether the book’s central premise is parable, fantast, metaphor or reality.

The book opens with the narrator (Tiny – a concert cellist) recounting a vivid dream of making love with a female owl – finding out two weeks later that she is pregnant. Her all-American patent-lawyer husband (one of a family of six wholesome brothers with wholesome and conventional “dog-baby” children – one of the wives “the secret abortionist” being the only real outsider other than Tiny) is delighted – but Tiny immediately insists that the baby will be an owl-baby – his attitude to that running the range of pity to embarrassment to anger at his wife bringing up past issues and projecting them on to their baby.

But when the baby is born, after a interim trip to Berlin which I have to say did not quite resonate with me, the Doctor’s immediate diagnosis is that the observations at birth (Tufted head, Yellow Eyes, Chitinous scaling) are “consistent with Strigiformes”.

Tiny names her owl-baby Chouette and fiercely resists conventional developmental milestones, standard baby raring and medical intervention – instead letting herself be led by instinct and by Chouette’s developing needs.

Her husband – furious at her refusal to give the baby he calls Charlotte a chance at a normal life - takes the opposite view (But here’s the crux of it, owl-baby. Your father wants to fix you, and I want us to love you as you are): seeking help and assistance from schools and doctors. Tiny’s only real ally is her sister-in-law who briefly becomes her lover before being herself unable to accept the reality of Chouette.

From their we have a story of motherhood and I think particularly how as a mother one navigates and breaks free of societal expectations and pre-formed moulds to allow one’s children to grow and develop into their own identities with all the sacrifice of one’s own expectations and pre-conceptions that involves as well as the pain of allowing them to eventually break free of parental influence as well as societal.

This is not a book that will I think appeal to everyone – those looking for a conventional narrative may struggle and for all its celebration of avian life I think some readers will find the deaths of various animals (mainly pets) triggering. None of this applied to me – although I will confess that, perhaps appropriately given my avatar, I did realise that my own sympathies and even parenting styles were much closer to that of the parents of dog-babies. I was also initially slightly uncomfortable at the scenes set in a church (although these were treated more sympathetically than I feared). I did find that the copious and clearly deeply understood musical references (which are then compiled in an afterword) were almost entirely wasted on me.

But ultimately of course great literature is often about exploring differences and gaining an empathetic understanding of ideas, views and experiences different to one’s own - and this very striking novel does this brilliantly.

My thanks to Little Brown Book Group UK for an ARC via NetGalley
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books784 followers
September 4, 2022
A strange, fantastic, and dizzyingly intelligent book that offers a unique perspective on motherhood in particular and parenthood in general. I loved every page.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews692 followers
January 11, 2022
For those of us who carp about cookie-cutter novels, non-linear stories, ubiquitous and burdensome POVs, etc., I urge you to pick up this beauty.  It is something completely different.  You may not like it, but it is creative and original.  It is also bizarre, even grotesque.  It serves as a panoply for the senses, with music, with colors, and with smells. 

I am not a mother.  There is nothing even approximating a "mother-bone" in my body.  The few reviews I had read of this highlighted the recognition of the relationship between a mother and her child.  I applaud the mama's fierce protectiveness of her owl-baby, the pure love.  Now, how would you feel about a little peck on the cheek?
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
November 4, 2021
Happy publication day!

Disturbing, dark and weird. A visceral book on motherhood, with a namesake owl that makes Hedwig an overly sweet teddy bear compared to a Grizzly
It was easier to love you before you were born

After gestating 9 days I can finally review Chouette after wrapping my head around this disturbing, dark and weird tale. It could basically be distilled into: a successful cellist is smothered by the care for her different child. But a fundamental part of the book is magical realism, that I initially found a bit disorienting, with very little fully normal people appearing.
Maybe that’s due to the narrators perspective, since she believes to have grown up with birds.
In a literal manner.
And there is also a female owl lover that leads to the aforementioned pregnancy.
The visceral isolation of motherhood, including alienation from her husband, is something that is a core theme moving further into the book. Sometimes the message is less subtly brought, with for instance this rebuke from her husband: Yes that’s right, you’re the problem. Mothers are always the problem.
In general he has quite cringy quotes, like: When it comes to our little girl can’t is a dirty word or Isn’t that just like you, to piss on a miracle

There is an animal infestation, an homicidal, but very small and brittle, hollow boned, owl-baby, and somewhere half way I caught myself thinking: is the main character a dog?
There are epic clap-backs like: There are more subtleties between letting a child run completely free and lobotomy and also sentences that cut to the bone, like: I knew that she loved me, but I was never really sure if what I felt for her in return was love or just a brittle sort of pity.

In the end I was not absolutely convinced by the world, but Claire Oshetsky takes you on a trip that is hard to forget and absolutely unique.
Profile Image for Rosh.
1,580 reviews1,849 followers
November 8, 2021
In a Nutshell: This is, by far, the weirdest book I have ever read in my life! But I still found it thought-provoking, and to a certain extent, I liked the questions it raised.

Story: (Golden Rule for this story synopsis and everything else that follows: don’t question any content with ‘How is that possible?’ I have no answers.)
Tiny has had a one-time dalliance with her secret owl lover. (I know…I get ya…read on.) She is now pregnant, and is a hundred per cent sure that her baby is an owl-baby, something her husband only sees as one of the mental side-effects of pregnancy. When Chouette is born though, Tiny is proved correct. Small and predatory, Chouette proves to be a very difficult owl-baby who functions as per her own adamant demands. But Tiny is a mother, and she vows to do the best she can to make her child happy, even if it means going against her husband and the rest of the world, and even if she ends up bloodied and bruised by her screeching child. (Yup, screeching, not screaming.) When her husband decides that he wants to seek a “cure” for their child, the time comes for Tiny to make tough decisions.

The story is written in the first person perspective of Tiny. Here’s one line said by Tiny to Chouette midway the story, and it best represents the essence of the book:
“Here’s the crux of it, owl-baby. Your father wants to fix you, and I want us to love you as you are.”

As is very evident, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill story. The entire content can best be viewed as metaphorical. Only this way can you make sense of what’s happening in the story. I am so stumped about how to review it because my usual reviews have a clear structure. For a book that is entirely unstructured, I have no idea how to proceed. So here I go with a list of random thoughts that come to my mind when I think of this book. (If you think my review is confusing, wait till you read the book!)

👉 This is a very short book, just a little more than 200 pages. So it’s a decently quick read. You won’t be able to whoosh through it though. The content doesn’t allow that. As Tiny herself says, she has “undiluted thoughts spiralling out of control.” And we are the ones reading those thoughts. So it’s almost stream of consciousness in its style at times.

👉 The writing is so beautiful though. I could go on and on pasting the various passages I highlighted. Some are hilarious while others are poignant. One of my favourites was “Housekeeping is nothing more than a losing encounter with entropy.” How true is that!

👉 The title “Chouette” means “owl” in French. There is a fair bit of French content in the book but not so much as will hinder your comprehension. For me, it worked as a nice way of testing my rudimentary French skills.

👉 I don’t know what genre to put this book under: horror, fantasy, magical realism, literary fiction, psychological drama, gory thriller… It has bits of all of these.

👉 This is by no means an easy read. Especially in the first 40% or so, the content is so meandering and absolutely random in its arcs that I kept wondering where the heck the story was going.

👉 Some of the adjectives that came to my mind as I progressed with the book: disturbing, weird, gory, shocking, weird, funny, sad, bizarre, tense, weird, hopeful, devastating,… did I say weird?

👉 I'm a very visual reader so I really struggled to picture the owl baby and the owl lover. How I wish this were an illustrated book!

👉 The metaphors within the narrative:
- Tiny’s story can be seen as a metaphor on the difficulties of parenting and motherhood. It also rises the themes of social conformity and acceptance, adherence to social norms rather than retaining your individuality, and fitting in predefined standards. (In a way, it seems to question the entire educational system that remoulds every individual imaginative thinker into a generically required skillset.)

- Do we need to conform to societal expectations in order to lead happy lives? At the same time, is it possible to survive in society by being a total non-conformist? Tough questions with no easy answers. But I liked the metaphor used by the author for these two elements. The nonconformists were ‘owls’ – wild & individualistic - and the conformists were ‘dogs’ – tame and loyal. (As I love dogs and owls, I felt torn between the two similes.)

- Chouette’s arc can also be seen as a metaphor for children with extreme mental disorders and how parents and others struggle to behave with such kids, who don’t deliberately behave outrageously but it is how they are.

👉 The parenting issues:
- Tiny’s character is a tough one to process. There are shades of various emotional problems: a bit of PTSD, a bit of under-confidence, a bit of melancholia, a bit of defensiveness,… You will root for her and yet dislike her adamant insistence of doing everything single-handedly for Chouette. Kind of like a helicopter parent, who means well but ends up destroying the child’s independent development.

- As the story comes from the mother’s perspective, it is very easy to say that this is a commentary on the extent to which mothers can go for their children, “In extremis”, as the blurb declares. But the role of Chouette’s father in this story is equally crucial. He stands for all that is straightforward and within societal norms. He wants the best for his daughter, so as to ensure a happy future for her after her parents are no longer alive. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. A part of me felt very sorry for him, especially as I know most readers will consider his character the villain of the story. But as a parent, I sympathised more with him than with Tiny. He stood by his wife and daughter during the worst of times and didn’t give up on them. He deserved a greater credit for his intentions, even if they didn’t always work out to plan.

👉 The ending is open to your interpretation. While I don’t mind open endings as long as they are well-written, in this case I was a bit disappointed. The end left me with many questions, and didn’t provide a closure to many queries raised earlier in the book. Such as the childhood of Tiny and what connection she had to birds earlier. How and why did she break away from owls to attach herself to a dog family? I can see book clubs debating over multiple points in this book and that ending. But I would really have enjoyed things to be tied together more neatly at the end.

Overall, Chouette is a metaphorical dilemma of wanting what's best for your child versus making your child fit in what society wants from it. It is a mentally tiring and emotionally exhausting experience to read this story. And even after you complete it, you can’t be entirely sure of what you just read. All the above points are based on my interpretation of this highly subjective narrative. You will definitely derive your own exposition of the story.

I usually try to provide recommendations about who might enjoy the reviewed book best. This time, I have nothing to say. I simply don’t know what category of readers will enjoy this. So I will speak to you as an individual.
- Would you enjoy a book that will provide you with a more visceral experience than an intellectual one, one that is more metaphysical than physical, one that doesn’t give you answers but raises many questions? You may try “Chouette”.
- Would you love a story with a beautifully tied-together ending, a direct commentary on the difficulties of parenting, a solution to the problems raised, a literal book that says what it means and means what it says? “Chouette” may not click with you.
- Those who are sensitive about gore or animal abuse would do well to avoid this book.

I have been dilly-dallying between 3 and 4 for this book. As far as its themes are concerned, it is a certain 4 for me. But because of that open ending, the gory content, and the abundant number of oddities in the tale (which might work well for some readers but weren’t really my cup of tea – I’m more of a dog than an owl, regardless of what my profile pic says!), my rating settles at 3.25 – “I liked it”.

My thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK and NetGalley for the ARC of “Chouette”. This review is voluntary and contains my honest opinion about the book.

Join me on the Facebook group, Readers Forever! , for more reviews, book-related discussions and fun.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,802 reviews2,384 followers
November 16, 2021

’My husband’s childhood was the color of fresh laundry, and the voice of his childhood was the voice of his mother calling him to supper. My childhood was the voice of wild crepuscular things rejoicing in the dusk.’

An allegorical tale which shares the emotional journey of motherhood, from conception through the months of pregnancy, birth and the early years of parenthood.

’I begin to understand what a gift I’ve been given, to have been chosen for this task...The birds are telling me that my life’s work...will be to teach you how to be yourself -- and to honor however much of the wild world you have in you, owl-baby--rather than mold you to be what I want you to be, or what your father wants you to be.’

When Chouette is born, she is indeed different, although her father sees what he wants her to be, rather than what her mother, Tiny sees. Her baby is an owl-baby. She is insistent on loving her as she is, and as she grows her natural instincts become stronger, which her mother sees as natural, given her being an owl-baby, after all. Being caught between the two worlds of what is considered a ‘normal’ child and ‘different,’ Tiny becomes her fierce protector, eschewing all interventive methods to change her into what her father thinks is best for her. Her mother knows that Chouette only needs to be herself, and spares no effort to ensure that her daughter is loved for herself, and embraces her crepuscular, natural ways. Meanwhile, her father is determined to find a ‘cure,’ hunting down one after the other, no matter the cost or the distance, and until then he keeps his distance from his wife and daughter. He doesn’t understand why she is willing to accept their daughter’s strangeness, her aberrant ways. Decisions must be made, and as Tiny is faced with pressure from her husband as well as doctor after doctor and their varying ways they believe they can “cure” Chouette. She believes her daughter is perfect as she is, but what is in Chouette’s best interest?

In my yard where the edges give way to woods are tall trees, one which is closest to the barn-like shed where an owl likes to perch on the branch and oversee it all, and share their questioning song. I don’t think I will ever look at that owl the same way after reading Chouette.

Underneath the bewitching prose and story, there’s a dark, subtle humour throughout this, an engaging if somewhat disquieting story that is filled with both love and the dreams we have for our children, as well as the struggle to accept their inherent natures, who they really are and love them in spite of our differing views on who they should be.

Published: 16 Nov 2021

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Ecco
March 21, 2022
How in the world do I rate a book like this? I’ve sat on this review the last couple days trying to figure that out…
Initial thoughts? Hated it. Too much owl metaphor for my liking.
An ode to motherhood and the beauty and challenges that come with it? Spot on. Loved it.
Based on my GR friend ratings, I’m one of the only ones who was middle of the road with this book. Seems to be a ‘you love it’ or ‘you hate it’ type of book, but I can honestly say I was split right down the middle.
You will never see me rate a memoir or a book drawn from real life experiences 1 star. If someone has the courage to tell their heart-wrenching story, I can totally respect that. And although this book is drawn on life experiences and isn’t verbatim to what actually happened, the book gives you a general sense of what realistically could have happened.
I just didn’t feel like I could connect as well to the story because the owl thing was just too odd. Had this been written more as a memoir, I probably would have rated it higher.
Profile Image for Lori.
371 reviews439 followers
April 10, 2022
Epigraph “Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!” —Mary X, Eraserhead

And just like that I wasn't sure where this book would lead me but knew it was somewhere i'd never been. David Lynch's work, including his student film Eraserhead, for those who admire it can always be interpreted in new ways and Lynch throughout his career, with the exception of the film he disowned, has said of every one of his works, no, no one has seen it as I did. His work, executed with creativity and innovation, springs from a deeply personal place within him. Lynch is his own genre. He serves you his art but won't digest it for you.

Chouette lives in the literary equivalent of that same space where the material is accessible but not translucent. Comparisons to Lynch end here. Oshetsky's writing is vivid and cinematic but not crafted to be inscrutable. Chouette tells a straightforward story, lives in a very definite space -- and that space will be different for different people and for the same person at different times. It's a virtuoso accomplishment, this novel narrated by Tiny, a cellist who gives birth to an owl-baby:

“Poor little thing!” somebody shouts next to my ear.
Doctor Canola dictates: “Tufted head. Yellow eyes. Skin exhibits chitinous scaling. Genitals ambiguous. Observations at birth consistent with Strigiformes—”

Many but not all reviewers have been deeply touched by it as a parable of or paean to motherhood. I was assured you don't need to be a mother to love Chouette (and the book ;) and because I'm not and never wanted to be, it's important to me to say it's not a prerequisite to read the book. And it's not only a book for women. Our father was by far the better parent and we knew it from a young age. And there's gender fluidity here. This is not a "woman's book" in the traditional, i.e. old-fashioned, sense.

Tiny's love for Chouette is as expansive as the multiverse. She is fiercely protective. And not perfect. The child's father is a very pragmatic man and goal-oriented, as are the members of his family. He wants the child he calls Charlotte to be the best she can be as he understands that. He loves his wife and his child -- if only every baby could be as loved as Chouette -- but their visions are incompatible. He won't accept her as nature created her. He wants medical science to make her "better," like other children or as close as possible, and as he takes her to a succession of doctors with increasingly drastic methods and satiric names (there's plenty of humor in Chouette). The differences drive them apart.

It’s time for the first Annual Summer Barbecue since you were born, and I’m nervous and excited.
“What are you doing?” your father says.
What kind of question is that? He can see for himself what I’m doing. I’m packing a little travel bag for you, with your diapers, and your pinkie mice, and your Le Creuset stock pot inside.
“You know we can’t bring her, don’t you, sweetheart?” he says. “She’s still so small and broken. Who knows what kind of germs she’ll be exposed to? She’s frail. She’s weak. It’s our job to keep her safe.”

The reader has already met his family, parents and brothers and their wives. At this point we know his haughty and intolerant mother does not take well to anything that doesn't conform to her standards of what's acceptable. His brothers are like he is, their wives unlike Tiny.

Maybe he's avoiding his own discomfort. Maybe he doesn't want Charlotte subjected to judgment...Or maybe it's both. That was my take. He's not all wrong or all right: he too is doing what he thinks is best for the child. He loves his wife and Charlotte, he's loving her in the way he knows how.

Tiny's mother-in-law is no paragon of motherhood, no parable of the sacrifices of birthing and raising children. Tiny's father-in-law's intentions seem pure: he has a form of dementia.

There's are spectrums of all sorts in the book. Some characters' sexuality is fluid. Some of their actions are unambiguous; more often they're not. There are such lovely shades in Oshetsky's novel they can't be sorted into categories, tucked into tropes. It's a remarkable piece of work in which the unfolding events and twists are surprising and almost always motivated by goodness. At times Chouette is as expansive as wild life and at times as constrained as domestic life can be.

The prose is perfection, a unique and superbly-written union of substance and style. The author has a distinct voice and vision, and there's room for the reader in there too. I love that about it. Claire Oshetsky's talent is innate and visceral. Chouette reads like it came from Claire Oshetsky as fully formed and beautiful as a child.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,428 reviews35.2k followers
November 17, 2021
“You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” she warns him. “This baby is an owl-baby.”

Motherhood. Motherly love. Protecting your child- even if your child is an owl baby.

Yes, this is a highly original and strange book. For most of the book I kept wondering "Am I the correct reader for this?" as well as "Is Tiny Mentally Ill?" or "is there something more going on here?"

When Chouette is born, Tiny works to take care of her child, to fulfill her needs while her husband works at finding a cure. He wants his daughter to be fixed while Tiny is committed to raising her to be her true self. Tiny is unwavering in her conviction that her daughter be raised to be herself. While her husband wants her to fit in. One could say that they are not on the same parenting page.

Again, unique, original but bizarre. This was a very creative way to tell a story. Plus, that cover! Many are enjoying it more than I did so please read their reviews as well. Plus, it comes with its own soundtrack.

Thank you to Ecco and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com

Profile Image for Jenny Lawson.
Author 6 books17.5k followers
September 21, 2021
A bizarre, dark and strangely elegant story about a woman who gives birth to an owl. Sort of. Honestly, I can't even explain it but I could not put it down.
Profile Image for Karen.
594 reviews1,196 followers
September 28, 2021
To say this is a “different” read is an understatement.
Some may love this, some may hate it.
When I started this I was thinking WTF?, an owl baby??!!!
Ultimately, this is a parable.. about a mother’s love for her child.
This owl baby was born and the mother went to any length to care for her.. no matter what obstacles came about and no matter what her husband, in-laws, or the general population thought was best for the child.
It’s different alright… sometimes horrific, sometimes funny, sometimes unbelievable, but I enjoyed it!

(Since the mother was a cellist, there are many classical music references mentioned in the story that I just must look up and listen to.)

Oh….and this cover is gorgeous!

Thank you to Netgalley and Ecco for the ARC!
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,982 reviews1,991 followers
February 19, 2022

My Review
: You can't find my interest in the Cult of Mother with a scanning electron microscope. I dislike the smugness of Mothers who define themselves by the fruits of their uterus. I am routinely revolted and infuriated by the seemingly inevitable bad, lazy, underinvolved fathers these Noble Mothers are saddled with. (Who chose him? Could it just possibly be you, your behavior, your expectations are at fault, Mother?)

Why in the hell did I ask for, then read this book?!

Because we're not on the rails leading to Vaginaville by way of Labor Creek, that's why. This book posits a half-owl, half-human baby born of lesbian bestiality committed in a dream. (Not a spoiler, that's literally the first page of the read.)
I dream I’m making tender love with an owl. The next morning I see talon marks across my chest that trace the path of my owl-lover’s embrace. Two weeks later I learn that I’m pregnant.

You may wonder: How could such a thing come to pass between woman and owl?

I, too, am astounded, because my owl-lover was a woman.
* * *
As for you, owl-baby, let’s lay out the facts. Your owlness is with you from the very beginning. It’s there when a first cell becomes two, four, eight. It’s there when you sleep too much, and crawl too late, and when you bite when you aren’t supposed to bite, and shriek when you aren’t supposed to shriek; and on the day that you are born—on the day when I first look down on your pinched-red, tiny-clawed, outraged little body lying naked and intubated in a box—I won’t have the slightest idea about who you are, or what I will become.

But there you will be, and you will be of me.

Right there, that voice makes my readar ping like it's locked onto an approaching asteroid. This? This is weird trip and I am here to take it.

What doesn't make me coo with delight is the rather stark presentation of her husband and his family. I did, however, get many evil-hearted chuckles at their expense:
My mother-in-law sees right over me. She is six feet tall and never looks down. She looks out toward the horizon instead, with an expression on her face as if she is thinking the same thought all the time, and that thought has something to do with the pioneer spirit.

Still, the way Author Oshetsky treats the poor bewildered father of this owl-baby is the reason I don't give this book five stars, why I won't be mentioning it for my annual six-stars-of-five "this book...it merged itself into me"; women get to whinge about male writers treating them as cardboard cutouts, so I have done the same.

Chouette's birth, her entry into a world not meant or designed for her, is a trauma; her mother is the only one who champions her. Naturally enough; she's got the owl-baby she expected. No one around her took her seriously when she told them, "this baby is half-owl," because who in their right mind would? Then...Chouette.

From that point on, the beautiful language...the beautiful Satanic Second Person language...goes into the full monty crazytime of a human woman raising an owl-baby, a creature she simply isn't like, but she keeps slugging. She does what mothers across the globe have always done: She learns, adapts, improvises. She makes do and she feeds, raises her child, meeting her owl-baby's needs for raw meat, for training in how to catch prey; she tussles with her owl-baby to accomplish the simplest of daily tasks.

In the teeth of a word-gale of opposition and resistance from her dog-person husband ("When it comes to our little girl, can't is a dirty word"). And I don't mean "man who likes dogs," I mean she thinks her husband...all of the rest of us not her and Chouette, in fact...are like dogs.

She does not intend a compliment in it.

The rest of the narrative is a rehash of The Yellow Wallpaper meets Gaslight. The horrors build in frequency as the reviled dog-person father succeeds in making his Charlotte into a dog-baby. Then comes the day the dog-family meets Charlotte...and she reverts to Chouette. Violently. Horribly. The dog-person father comes to a bloody end; Chouette and mother go on the lam; but, as it inevitably must, Time has her way with us:
She is strong. She is monstrously individual. She is sister to the Titans. She is Ozymandias before the fall. She is the bird of omen, dark and foul; she is blood-wed; she is Strix; she is harbinger of war and bringer of death and slaughterer of armies, oh, my Polyphonte!—

She is the girl I raised her to be.

And that she is. This bizarre extended metaphorical trip through the awful, consuming process of being a mother ends as it must...in defeat, in triumph, in the hollowness of being finally ready...for the task, the life, just ended. The awful emptiness of realizing: Now it's just me I worry about, care for, be with. Now it's not You, it's just me.

All the stars I've rated this book are for that single, cruel, agonizing, slow-moving catastrophe of a realization.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,552 reviews604 followers
January 9, 2022
Reading Chouette is entering a voyage into familiar but disorienting terrain. Basic premise: It is possible for a woman to have an owl baby. When I wasn't gasping with shock and awe, I was dizzy with questions about the significance of various events. Oshetsky's characters are not cardboard allegorical symbols but complex and relatable. I see-sawed. I admired Tiny and connected with her experience of motherhood. Yes, I know just how she felt! Or, I was repelled by her and her choices for Chouette. I even found her confused husband occasionally sympathetic. The ending is electrifying. I can be sure that I will never forget this novel.

Here is the Spotify playlist for music in the novel: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7nY...
Profile Image for Emily Coffee and Commentary.
474 reviews156 followers
October 8, 2022
A stunning, otherworldly novel on motherhood, depression, desire, and the sacrifices one makes for their child. Visceral and heartrending, we see the consequences of trying to force changes in non-conforming children, and the toll that unconditional love takes over time. We see various transformations, but literal and figurative, about the codependency that trauma can cause, the stages and grief and acceptance when a child outgrows the need of their parents. The repressed desires and nature of individuals because of societal expectation and the toxic mentality of “I know what is best for my child,” despite their pain or unhappiness. This novel is vivid, enticing, and quick to embed itself in your heart.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,309 followers
December 18, 2022
Longlisted for one of the UK’s most important prizes, the Barbellion Prize

But here’s the crux of it, owl-baby. Your father wants to fix you, and I want us to love you as you are.

Chouette, by Claire Oshetsky is a fiercely empathetic, powerful and beautifully written parable of motherhood, published by Virago in the UK and Ecco in the US and due out in November 2021. It opens:

I dream I’m making tender love with an owl. The next morning I see talon marks across my chest that trace the path of my owl-lover’s embrace. Two weeks later I learn that I’m pregnant.
You may wonder: How could such a thing come to pass between woman and owl?

I, too, am astounded, because my owl-lover was a woman.

As for you, owl-baby, let’s lay out the facts. Your owlness is with you from the very beginning. It’s there when a first cell becomes two, four, eight. It’s there when you sleep too much, and crawl too late, and when you bite when you aren’t supposed to bite, and shriek when you aren’t supposed to shriek; and on the day that you are born—on the day when I first look down on your pinched-red, tiny-clawed, outraged little body lying naked and intubated in a box—I won’t have the slightest idea about who you are, or what I will become.

But there you will be, and you will be of me.

Our narrator Tiny senses immediately that her embryonic child is different, as she tells her husband:

“Help me.”
There, it’s done. I’ve said it.
He reaches across the table and grabs my hands.
“What is it?” he says. “What’s on your mind? I love you. I’m here to help.”
“You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” I say. “This baby is an owl-baby.”

Her husband dismisses her fears as early-pregnancy jitters, but as the baby is born she is indeed different to the “dog-babies” her inlaws had come to expect.

Tiny, is a cellist, and music plays a key background role in the novel. The author has provided a Spotify playlist of the pieces features, which I found added to the novel’s already captivating atmosphere, an example being this which inspires the baby’s name.

And then I hear a soft aria singing in my head, that one from Massenet’s unbearably tragic opera Werther—“Va! laisse couler mes larmes!”—and tears fall inside of me, hammering my heart, until my baby’s true name is revealed. “Her name is Chouette,” I say.

Tiny and her husband take, as the opening quote to my review suggests, different paths to Chouette’s development, with Tiny’s husband anxiously monitoring missed developmental milestones, seeking medical treatment and even calling the baby Charlotte, while Tiny comes to her own realisation that Chouette has special skills of her own:

Parents underestimate what owl-babies can do, and I realize I’ve been guilty of making the same mistake myself. I’ve been listening too much to your father, who is preoccupied by the way you keep missing typical dog-baby developmental targets, like sits alone without support, when you don’t even bend in the middle, or displays social smile, when your mouth is as hard as a beak, or uses spoon to feed self, when you rip and tear and gorge on food without need of a spoon.

Nowhere in the developmental targets have I ever read: feeds self by killing small domesticated animals.

I’d like to see your dog-cousins try that.

Although as her life becomes increasingly dominated by Chouette, her musical career in literal ruins, anxiously covering over the fact that the aforementioned small domesticated animal was the neighbour’s kids’ escaped gerbil, her husband argues that she is the neglectful one:

You give up on everything, don’t you?” he says. “Isn’t it just like you, to give up on your music, too? The way you gave up on me? The way you gave up on our girl?”

I could tell him that my cello lies in broken pieces behind the locked door of my home studio, and that wharf rats have stolen away the strings, and that my fingers are like sticks, and my arms are weak with pits and scars. I could tell him that my thoughts are out of tune, and that the idea of music feels like an old forgotten memory in a drawer because my girl takes up every breath and every moment of my life.

But I know he’s asking me a different question altogether. He doesn’t care about my music. He never has. He stopped coming to concerts once we married, as if attending them to begin with was always just part of a courtship ritual that was no longer required of him.

The novel also contains flashbacks to Tiny’s own adolescence and a traumatic event, with echoes of the closing section of The Vegetarian (see below) which led to her first encounter with her owl-lover:

My mother didn’t answer. She gestured mutely toward her feet. Is it true that her long toes were burying themselves in the ground, so deeply that she could no longer take a step? Do I honestly remember seeing her two feet rooting themselves to the spot? Did her skin really become hard and rough all over, like a tree? Were there really spring-green leaves spilling forth from her fingertips? Or has my adult mind painted the memory of this night in such unlikely colors, as a way to assuage my guilt for leaving her? I could hear men shouting and dogs barking, coming closer. Ahead I could see the tangled thicket. The wind in the trees sounded like the voices of women singing in chorus, and their voices were filled with glottal embellishments, as if sung by throats made of wood. The music urged me forward. And so I left my mother, and went on without her. I wasn’t afraid, because the trees took care of me, and they brooded and bent over me, and sang to me their melancholy songs, and fed me, and gave me succor, until the Bird of the Wood found me and took me home with her and taught me to trust to the sound of my own voice.

The author is one of those (all too few) also highly active on Goodreads as a reviewer and participant in discussion groups, under the username ‘Lark Benobi’, and on her reviewer (as opposed to author) page she lists some of her favourite novels of recent years: The Vegetarian by Han Kang tr. Deborah Smith, Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz tr. Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff, Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin tr. Megan McDowell, Earthlings by Sayaka Murata tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori, Sealed by Naomi Booth, Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné re. Roland Glasser and Ladivine by Marie N'Daiye tr. Jordan Stump (links to the author’s reviews).

That list has considerable overlap with my own reading, and it is a pleasure to read an anglosphere author in such active dialogue with world literature, although Chouette is a unique work of its own.

I have often cited (including when reviewing Fever Dream) the literary critic Todorov who referred to what he calls the fantastic, arguing that an author can choose between a rational explanation for supernatural events - what Todorov calls "the uncanny" - and a supernatural explanation - what he calls the "marvellous" (and most would call fantasy).

The fantastic occupies the duration of this uncertainty. Once we choose one answer or the other, we leave the fantastic for a neighbouring genre, the uncanny or the marvellous. The fantastic is that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event.

This is a delicate literary tightrope and most novels fail to balance along it for their entire path, but Chouette does so, leaving it for the reader to determine, or indeed to also choose to leave undecided, whether Chouette is a literal owl-baby, or whether the owl-baby condition is a form of developmental or genetic condition.

And Oshetsky uses the “duration of this uncertainty” to explore motherhood in a unique way but also marriage and the impact of parenthood, relationships with extended families particularly in-laws and, above all, how we, both individually as parents and collectively as a society, treat those who are different to our norms.

Highly recommended and surely a strong Woman’s Prize contender.

Thanks to Virago via Netgalley for the ARC.
Profile Image for Janie.
1,081 reviews
August 21, 2022
I have never felt the urge to have children. My husband and I are happy with each other and our many pets. But what happens when a mother gives birth to a baby that is not normal? Tiny's daughter, Chouette, is a newborn owl. Neither mother nor child are accepted into Tiny's husband's judgemental family. At first, Tiny must make her own decision about whether or not to raise this little anomaly. Tiny accepts motherhood and takes fierce and loving care of her owl-baby, adapting herself to the young one's needs. There are mountains to climb at every turn and challenges to be met, especially from Tiny's own husband. He believes that science can change their wild child into a normal, properly functional little girl. Me, I wanted to peck his eyes out.

This is a wonderful novel about facing others when one marches to the beat of their own drummer. Natural instincts and interests are different for the wild at heart. Set them free.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,301 reviews450 followers
December 7, 2021
Wow! For any woman whose partial definition is mother, this book is pure magic. The love/hate relationship between an adult who has her own needs and desires and a child whose very survival depends on her, not to mention happiness, is clearly and emotionally portrayed by Claire Oshetsky in this novel. I chose to read this as an allegory. Tiny's "owl baby" has special needs, and is not like other children. Tiny needs to not only decide to love this baby, but to discover her true nature and help her live her best life. To do this, she has to fight her husband and in-laws who want to do whatever it takes to make Chouette "normal". She combats loneliness, guilt, personal sacrifice and injury in order to insure Chouette can be her best self.

Anyone who has raised a child or children can recognize the difficulties Tiny experiences. Parenthood is hands down the most difficult job in the world, mainly because you love them and want the best for them. This requires subjugation of your own self to some extent, and even more so when you have children with disabilities. Throw in differences of opinion with a spouse, doctors and psychologists and schools who think they have the answer, and the mother's own insecurities, and you get this wonderful novel.

There were many passages I highlighted in this book, but my favorite part was at the end when Chouette finally flies free, leaving Tiny feeling equal parts joy and devastation. Tiny wonders if now "it's finally maybe her turn."

Yes, Tiny. It is.
Profile Image for But_i_thought_.
185 reviews1,536 followers
November 30, 2021
Take your idea of dark and twisted motherhood. Add in a twist of violence and subversion. Mix in fairy-tale elements and a sense of disorientation. Crank up the unreliable narrator meter. Introduce frequent diversions to dream logic and a sprinkling of the feral. Fold in something tender and just a hint of the carnal. Behold, you have a taste of “Chouette”.

Part parable, part experimental testimony, “Chouette” is Claire Oshetsky’s ode to motherhood, drawing on her experience raising two non-conforming children. The narrator of the novel, a married woman called Tiny, tells us:

“I dream I’m making tender love with an owl. The next morning I see talon marks across my chest that trace the path of my owl-lover’s embrace. Two weeks later I learn that I’m pregnant.”

True to her fears, Tiny eventually gives birth to an owl-baby, which she calls Chouette (French for ‘owl’). Chouette is different to other babies:

“This baby will never learn to speak, or love, or look after itself. It will never learn to read or toss a football.”

Tiny’s husband is devastated. Is Chouette’s owl-ness to be read as metaphor for bodily difference and neurodiversity, or have we entered the realm of the fantastical? It is up to you to decide - to read ‘Chouette’ is to surrender, in many ways, to the surreal and the ambiguous.

What is clear is that the novel captures, with lyrical intensity, the loneliness and violence and ecstasy of early motherhood, with the added complexity of non-normative care:

“It could be that you’ve injected me with your little talon. It could be that your talon is dipped in the poison of mother-love.”

The more Tiny dedicates herself to her new role, however, the more her husband withdraws. He becomes determined to “fix” Chouette (who he insists on calling “Charlotte”) through a series of bizarre experimental treatments. The contrasting viewpoints between both parents forms the philosophical axis around which the plot revolves:

“The birds are telling me that my life’s work, as your mother, will be to teach you how to be yourself – and to honor however much of the wild world you have in you, owl-baby – rather than mold you to be what I want you to be, or what your fathers wants you to be.”

The lyricism of the book’s prose is matched by its musicality. As a former cellist, Tiny frequently hears and describes musical pieces that reflect her internal weather. Most striking of these are works like Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Sept Papillons’ and Messiaen’s 'Oiseaux Exotiques’ – pieces that, when consumed in conjunction with the prose, add to the book’s eerie, otherworldly atmosphere.

My only challenge with the book is that it takes some rather bizarre and violent turns, which I found difficult to reconcile with the book’s otherwise nurturing themes. One could say that ‘Chouette’ pushes the boundaries of comfort, deliberately so, leaving you feeling slightly bewildered, rattled, violated, while simultaneously challenging your perceptions of the normative. In this, its unusual combination of the tender and the ruthless, ‘Chouette’ is bound to unsettle the right reader in just the right way.

Mood: Dark, surreal, discordant
Rating: 8/10

Also on Instagram.

Soundtrack to the novel

The author summarizes the soundtrack for the novel in an epilogue. Here are the pieces that stood out for me:

• Part’s ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’
• Rautavaara’s ‘Cantus Arcticus’
• Mozart’s ‘Dissonance’ Quartet
• Anna Clyne’s ‘Dance’
• Schumann’s ‘An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust’
• Dvorjak’s ‘Silent Woods’
• Dvorjak’s ‘Miniatures’
• Messiaen’s ‘Oiseaux Exotiques’
• Britten’s ‘Bordone’
• Massenet’s Werther’
• Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Sept Papillons’
• Final death-scene of ‘Carmen’
• Gorecki’s ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’
• Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ Symphony, Movement 3
• Brahm’s ‘Ein Deutsches Requiem’
• Stravinky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ for four hands
• Busto’s ‘Ave Maria, gratia plena!’
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