In the mountainous city of Nevers, there lives a professor of literature called Q. He has a dull marriage and a lacklustre career, but also a scrumptious collection of antique dolls locked away in his cupboard. And soon Q lands his crowning acquisition: a music box ballerina named Aliss who tantalizingly springs to life. Guided by his mysterious friend Owlish and inspired by an inexplicably familiar painting, Q embarks on an all-consuming love affair with Aliss, oblivious to the sinister forces encroaching on his city and the protests spreading across the university that have left his classrooms all but empty. Thrumming with secrets and shape-shifting geographies, Dorothy Tse’s extraordinary debut novel is a boldly inventive exploration of life under repressive conditions.
‘Owlish is the story of a city as much as it is the story of Q. Between his correspondence with a strange figure known only as Owlish and a ballerina figurine who has come to life, the professor is immersed and distracted enough not to notice the city and his university emptying out around him as the political situation deteriorates and falls into chaos. Tse’s style in Owlish, with its magical elements, suggests a more overtly political Italo Calvino, or Salman Rushdie with a lighter touch…the story is engrossing and the prose, translated by the always satisfying Natascha Bruce, a delight.’ — Jessa Crispin, Telegraph