Sunday, 9 February 2014

Book Review: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Hey guys. So, my next book review is of a book called Bog Child, and I read this for the Ireland Reading Challenge, hosted by (read my challenge sign up page here). Bog Child is written by an Irish author, set in Ireland and features the charming Irish characters, most notably Fergus and his family, and Cora, Fergus' friend-turned-crush-turned-girlfriend type thing. The book cover and Goodreads description of Bog Child can be found on my Library Haul post so I'm just going to jump straight into the review.

Whats the deal?

Bog Child is primarily about a boy called Fergus, who is hoping to pass his exams so that he can get out of Ireland and escape the troubles to become a doctor instead. Fergus finds the body of a girl in the bog up in the mountains near his home, and the book follows what happens from then on. But it's not just the bog child that affects Fergus. His brother, who is a political prisoner, goes on hunger strike, Fergus makes friends with a Welsh soldier (who he's not actually supposed to be friends with) and Fergus is asked to do something he would rather not do by a man with connections to his imprisoned brother. Poor Fergus. There is a bright side though! Cora, a girl who comes up from Dublin with her archeologist mother to look at the bog child, seems to send Fergus' heart a flutter. And of course, we have the delightful Mel, the bog child, the curse, the abomination (but shhh! No spoilers).

How does it work?

The book is mostly centered around Fergus, the protagonist, and what is happening in his life. HOWEVER, in Fergus' dreams, we flashback to Mel (the bog child) and her time. Mel tells us all about her life and what is happening there (and then), which draws parallels between the Iron Age (Mel) and 1960s Ireland (Fergus). The flashbacks lead up to what happened to Mel that left her in a bog to be discovered hundreds of years later. It was an interesting setup, flitting between Mel, and the different parts of Fergus' life - hanging out with Cora and discussing Mel, visiting his brother, talking to Uncle Tally, making friends with Owain.

The book isn't fast paced, but neither is it so slow it gets boring. The scene is set pretty much from the start and, as the story progresses, you are able to picture more and more of the landscape and events, good and bad. You pretty much get a feel for what's happening from a few chapters in, and there's an event that happens somewhere around the middle that ties in with the task that Fergus has been set (see how much I'm trying to keep all spoilers away?) that makes you think "I know exactly what's happening here". No. You don't. You don't know anything. In fact, about 3 chapters before the end, everything you know is flipped upside down. Let me just say this - the bad guy isn't necessarily the bad guy, nor is the good guy necessarily the good guy. Cryptic? Read the book and you'll see what I mean.

Completely Loved:
  • The topic of the book. Although I'm not overly interested in politics, the theme winds through the book in such a way that I couldn't help but be interested. Seriously guys. I finished this book and thought "right, I think I'm gonna find another book and learn more about the Irish troubles". It's the kind of book that feeds you enough information about a topic to make you interested, without shoving it down your throat. And I loved that.
  • Owain. Oh my Lord, Owain! He was so sweet, and amazing, and adorable and OH OWAIN! But seriously. This is a character who is supposed to be a "bad guy" (he's one of the British soldiers who everyone in Ireland hates just for being there) but actually he is, as Fergus finds out, human just like all the rest of them. Owain had a choice to make back home (he's from the Welsh Valleys) and he made the choice to run free from home. Ultimately, he's no freer than the rest of them. But he was funny and uplifting even in serious situations and I get the feeling that, if circumstances were just slightly different, he and Fergus would have been ever greater friends than they got to be.
  • The Flashbacks. These were, I think, incredibly well done. The parallels between Mel's time and Fergus' own beautifully enhanced the story because they were clearly drawn and yet subtly interwoven all at the same time. I loved it.
Not so much:
  • The cover of the book didn't interest me, and the blurb didn't pull me in at all. Maybe it's just because I don't usually read books like that but, I don't know, it just didn't make the book seem interesting enough. In fact, if I wasn't participating in the challenge (and panicking over whether I'd find any Irish books) I probably wouldn't have picked it up which is a shame because I really enjoyed it. As for the story itself, I can't think of anything I disliked enough to put in here. That's pretty good, right?

I found a few quotes that I liked enough to share.

'We suffer more from the sins of omission than the sins of commission' ~ Felicity. I think this is a pretty nice way of saying you regret the things you don't do far more than you will ever regret the things you do actually do.

'Death is not a reaper, like they say, nor even a friend. It is dark, fierce water, an inundation' ~ Mel, in a flashback.

'The studying, the books, exams, arguments, theories. The jokes and pints, laughter, kisses and songs. Life was like running, ninety percent sweat and toil, ten percent joy' ~narrator, at the end. I think this part and the death part (see quote above) kind of look nice together; work hard and play hard in life so that death may not be so scary and dark.

'The summer of the bog child was over' ~ narrator. Although this line is simple, the way it is slotted in at the end of the book, makes you feel like it's the end of an era (which it kind of is), not just for Fergus and Cora, Owain and Mel and Joey and Tally and all the rest, but for the reader too.

Final thoughts

I would give this 4/4.5 out of 5. It was an enjoyable read, very funny and entertaining, but also serious as well, and I think Dowd got the balance perfect between the two. It was warm yet heartbreaking, and I grew to love the characters so much that the end was completely bittersweet. Completely. I would definitely recommend this to anyone, not just those who are interested in Irish history. Because I think that's part of the beauty of this book; it takes a topic that some might say is interesting and some might say isn't, and handles it in a way that makes it accessable to all, regardless of your level of knowledge or interest in history or politics.

I hope you enjoyed my review, and I hope I encouraged some of you to read this! If you have read it (or are going to) please comment your thoughts below. Hopefully, I'll post quite soon (within the next few days), workload permitting, so I'll see you then!

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