Thursday, 13 August 2009

Bog Child

I wasn't aware of Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd, which was published earlier this year, until I read this article informing me that she had been posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal. I immediately borrowed the book from the library and upon doing so realised that it was the cover of Siobhan Dowd's debut novel, A Swift Pure Cry, that had been tempting me for some time.

This year I have read some very good Young Adult novels, my first for some time, but Bog Child is exceptionally good. In some aspects Dowd's writing reminded me of that of Meg Rosoff and they were actually friends during the last year of Dowd's life, a friendship originating from their mutual experiences of breast cancer and of writing. I was also reminded somewhat of Brian Friel's fabulous play, Translations, in its subject matter.

Fergus McCann, an eighteen year old boy living in a Nationalist community in Northern Island, is digging for turf with his Uncle Tally when he discovers the body of a child, preserved by the bog. Living during the Troubles, as the Hunger Strikes in Long Kesh Prison -also known as HM Prison Maze- of 1981 are taking place, Fergus thinks that the child has been murdered by "the Provos" but things are not as they appear. Mel, the bog child, is actually from the Iron Age and her story parallels that of Fergus throughout the novel; a novel of sacrifice and betrayal.

I am so thankful that I came across Bog Child, that the librarians' award brought it to my attention, because I adored it. It is a clever, perceptive, and beautiful novel; it is also tragic and heartrendingly sad in parts, in both Fergus and Mel's stories. This is not a subtle or mild novel but one that contains some violence and trauma; it is a coming-of-age story set in a country rife with politics. The political setting is intrinsic to the plot and I wondered how difficult the politics would appear to a child, or young adult, as it isn't easy to understand anyway ... or is that in itself the point, that it is nonsensical but that a child may make more sense of it than an adult and see what needs to be done? I also wondered if the subject matter would even be of interest to a younger audience who hadn't lived through the Troubles? From the reviews I have seen from younger people, these doubts aren't of issue, although teachers -the older audience- seem to be the ones who think that they are. I remember reading or being taught literature that was set during the Troubles and my interest was not adversely affected so I am apparently approaching the subject now as an adult.

This is an incredibly good book and I highly recommend it; it makes compelling and quick reading but is thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking.

Some examples of the writing and passages I liked:

The girl in the bog. Somebody murdering her.
He bit his lip. He couldn't get those little hand, the spools on the finger-pads, the coiled metal of the bangle out of his mind. In his head there was a strange explosion, as if his brain had collapsed like a clapped-out star. He threw down his pencil and shut his eyes.

The tarpaulin around the bog child was pinned down. There was an expectant feel to it. The archaeologists were on their way and the girl inside was waiting. He put his hand to the khaki-green side, itching to see what lay within. But the tarpaulin was weighted down and seamless. It was wrong to disturb her.

My life fell apart like two halves of an apple, with Rur's hand that day on my shoulder being the knife.

I held the life of the person I loved most like a frail moth in the palm of my hand. But it was safe there. Safe always.


katrina said...

I read this in July as we were looking for new books to teach the kids, I loved it and now we are going to teach it to our 13 year olds, hopefully they'll love it too.

farmlanebooks said...

I've heard of this one, but didn't know what it would be like. I'm pleased to know it is good and will look out for a copy - great review!

verity said...

The Carnegie medal is always worth watching; after all librarians generally know about books! I have read Swift pure cry, but not this one. I think it is great that there are some really good young adult books out there these days; I really struggled at first making the switch from the children's library to the adult section when all that there seemed to be in between was a shelf of Sweet Valley High books.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Katrina, thanks for commenting! I think it would be a wonderfully interesting book to teach and I wish you success; I hope the students do love it.

Jackie, thanks. It's great and is amusing too, despite the heavy subject matter.

Verity, I'll definitely be paying attention from now on. I've only read some of the previous winners.
Was A Swift Pure Cry good?
YA Lit is very rich in options these days.
I admit I loved SVH when I was younger; well, actually more Sweet Valley Twins when I was little.

Anonymous said...

ks for this review Claire or I would have had no idea that this book existed and it sounds like it is incredible.

Anonymous said...

That should read 'Thanks' rather than'k's' sorry!

Paperback Reader said...

Hah, Simon, I took it as an abbreviated form of "kudos", which would have worked as well ;)!

I really, really loved it and I hope others do too; it deserves recognition and I am relieved it won the Carnegie and made my radar.

Darlene said...

Just whipped over to my library's website and we have two copies - sitting on the shelf. Why are they not out, it's summer and there are kids looking for good books to read. I will be sure to mention this title to young adults looking for a great story and will keep it in mind for myself.

Nymeth said...

It was thanks to the Carnegie that I became aware of this, too. Initially I was sad that Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go didn't win (another excellent YA novel that takes a good look at gender assumptions, among other things), but while that book already has quite a bit of attention, this one seemed to be slipping by unnoticed before the award. Anyway, if I hadn't been dying to read it already, the comparisons to Meg Rosoff and to Translations would have done it!

Nymeth said...

Also! I've been entertaining the idea of putting together a Carnegie Project. Can I assume from the comments that there would be some interest? :P

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, I was surprised to find a copy on my library shelf (the one I frequent) too but that was before the school holidays. It would be great to promote this to young reader in-house.

Ana, I kind of built it up with the comparisons, didn't I?! I think it -and she- definitely deserve more recognition and, yes, there would be definite interest in a Carnegie challenge!

Samantha said...

This one has now gone straight onto my wishlist!

Paperback Reader said...

I hope you enjoy it, Samantha! With your love for Irish Literature, I imagine you will.