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Synopsis from Goodreads
DIGGING FOR PEAT in the mountain with his Uncle Tally, Fergus finds the body of a child, and it looks like she’s been murdered. As Fergus tries to make sense of the mad world around him—his brother on hunger-strike in prison, his growing feelings for Cora, his parents arguing over the Troubles, and him in it up to the neck, blackmailed into acting as courier to God knows what—a little voice comes to him in his dreams, and the mystery of the bog child unfurls.
To read Siobhan Dowd is to throw your own manuscript into the blender.
Let’s start this again, shall we? I’ve been putting off writing this review for a while now because I wanted to get it right. I wanted to do this book justice and to write a beautiful and articulate review that will encourage every single one of you to pick up this book and read it- again if you’ve already read it.
But no. No, I chat on about blenders. I don’t even have a blender!
This is probably the best proof I can give you for what reading one of Siobhan Dowd’s books does to a person. You have all these feelings, your emotions are tangling like that time you tried to do the Eiffel Tower in the Cat’s Cradle (seriously, did anyone ever manage to do that?) and you just feel so numb that anything you do say comes out as absolute rubbish.
For a good hour after I had finished Bog Child, I could feel this tingling in my toes and I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself.
Like in A Solace of the Road and A Swift Pure Cry, with Bog Child Dowd makes you believe in every single word. She pulls you in, makes you sit up and pay attention even if it’s in a subject that you thought you didn’t really care about (cue flashbacks of a school trip pretending to know what the Tollund Man was).
The story is beautiful and absolutely devastating. Whereas I think A Swift Pure Cry will always be my favourite of her books, all her stories evoke the same feelings in me. They’re brutal and they’re harsh but they’re so honest. And even when I’m reading them through blurry eyes, I know that what happens is right for the story and there couldn’t be any other way.
(A note on the plot for Bog Child: I was so convinced that I’d gotten away with having my heartbroken in this book. But no.
It’s obvious that Siobhan Dowd had a talent for writing realistic and interesting teenage characters. And she was one of those rare writers who could write both sexes with perfect ease. Everything that Fergus did was true to his character and to the tone of the book. I’ve always loved it when YA characters have goals and dreams and Fergus’ determination to change his circumstances and make something of himself was so fierce and extremely satisfying.
And I think out of all her characters, Fergus’ situation is the one I related to the most. Like Fergus, I constantly find myself thinking about change, whether it’s ones that I can set into motion or ones that are beyond my control. And I feel the idea of wanting to move on and the impatience of having to wait for what comes next is perhaps a common issue in YA but in Siobhan Dowd’s hands, it’s extraordinary and I believe that’s the true scale to measure a writer.
The setting and the history of Bog Child are the catalyst for Fergus’ story. I’ve read quite a few stories set against the background of The Troubles but it’s never been handled quite as well, or with as much poignancy, as in Bog Child. The bleak landscape and the history are absolutely paramount to what happens and I can’t imagine this story working in any other setting.
It’s uncomfortable and it’s upsetting but it happened and it’s important that books like this are written, to ensure that these kinds of subjects don’t get sugar coated and white-washed just because the book is aimed at teenagers. Luckily, Siobhan Dowd wasn’t an author to talk down to her audience and certainly wasn’t one to patronise her readers, leaving things out because they wouldn’t be able to handle the darker side of things.
And she definitely wasn’t a sugarcoaterer.
“But it’s a strange time we live in. And we have to do strange things to get out of the strange times.”
All of Dowd’s books have this restrained beauty about them and Bog Child is no exception. Instead of forcing convoluted, lyrical writing on the unsuspecting reader and bellowing “Look! Look how clever I am with my obscure metaphors!” Dowd constantly encourages us to see the beauty in the usual, the normal and the everyday. As if everything is accidentally beautiful, if only we knew how to look.
“All Fergus could see were a thousand airmail letters, flying west and east, leaving trails of silver nitrate across the sky.”
There is no way I would ever be able to shuffle my thoughts into coherent sentences about this book, or any of Siobhan Dowd’s stories, but I just had to write something, anything about this story because her books should always be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when they think “YA”.