The book: Bog Child, by Siobhan Dowd
The edition: Definitions paperback, 327 pages (royalties go to the Siobhan Dowd Trust to bring books to disadvantaged children)
The story: summer 1981 on the Eire-Ulster border. Fergus has just finished high school and is going through the final exams, hoping to leave the country after that, and trying to stay free of the political unrest. But that is hard for anyone, and harder for him since his brother has been arrested. In the middle of all that, while digging for peat, he discovers the body of a child from the Iron Age, which in turn will bring a Dublin archeology professor and her daughter into his life. This is the story of that summer, and of Fergus’ coming of age through love, politics, family and more.
My experience with the book & my thoughts: I bought this one after reading a short comment about it on Nymeth’s blog and because it fit the What’s in a Name Challenge rules, but with no great expectations. What I found was a compelling story (or two), a good style and some strong reminiscences about Ireland (for me, as I lived there for some time). In other words, if you asked me whether I would recommend this book I would say yes.
Still, I was not completely satisfied with it. Why? I think it feels too much as a YA novel. Which it is, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a YA novel appealing to a more adult audience. Unfortunately, YA are just not my cup of tea. Especially YA novels where everything happens over one summer (I don’t believe in turning points, I believe that people change little by little). Which goes to say: there’s nothing wrong with this book, just me: I’m probably getting older and focusing more on other life stages.
The part with spoilers: too many things seemed like a Deus-ex-Machina, everything turning out fine just because the end of the summer is near. Why did Cora and Felicity travel to Pompeii, just so that Fergus could make the link? And anyway, do you really think all the high professors would not think about that, and need a casual epiphany by a nobody like Fergus? And how comes Dafters deceives Fergus to take revenge for exactly the same episode that Joe casually recalls during a visit, and that Fergus did not remember at all because at the time he was drunk and passed out? I, for one, can’t help thinking that things were not as they turn out in the book, that the packets were explosive and the IRA was Dafters, not Unk.
What I liked: the Irish setting.
What I didn’t like: how one summer is exactly a turning point, with one boy turning adult all at once.
Language & writing: at first there were so many strange words that I thought “this I will not understand”. But after a while it just sounded very Irish, and I say that as a compliment.
In the author’s own words: I think this sums up the whole thing:
“It’s the squaddie.”
“He’s not just a squaddie. He’s Owain. He’s Welsh. He’s just like you. Or me. And I don’t want to be involved in the killing. That’s all.”
And just to give you a taste of the kind of character Fergus is:
“Christ, it’s quiet up here,” said Uncle Tally.
“It’d be a strange place to live.”
“You’d have to be a hermit.”
“There’s be nothing to do but pray,” said Fergus.
“Aye. You’d have plenary indulgences made for every last sinner by the time you died yourself. And then you’d be whisked up straight to heaven.”
“You should move up here.”
“I would, too. Only it’s a bit far.”
“Far from where?”
“The nearest bar.”
“You could make your own distillery, Unk.”
“But what would you distil?”
“The prayers. What else?”
Links to better understand this book:
(Do you know of any Republic of Ireland-based material that I could add here? Please share. I was looking to make this as impartial as possible, but didn’t find anything.)
Random thought: 79 AD! Again!
Read this if: if you like coming of age stories.
Counts as: What’s in a Name Challenge – Life Stage