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Picturing a World

Bog Child

Somewhere recently, I saw Patrick Ness quoted as saying something along the lines of, "If you haven't read Siobhan Dowd, do yourself a favor and remedy the lack at once." So I went to the website of the Siobhan Dowd Trust and chose Bog Child for starters. Do yourself a favor!

Bog Child is classified commercially as a Young Adult novel. Since the central character, Fergus McCann, is eighteen and teenagers can become as immersed in it as any adult, fair enough. Nevertheless, adults can become just as immersed as any teenager in its story lines connected to archeology and the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1980's; in its highly individual characters and the dynamics of a family; in its exploration of the moral dilemmas Fergus faces. Meg Rosoff reviews it well. What I want to comment on here is the joy of coming across a novel written with an ear for language and a dedication to authenticity in picturing a place and people.
Someone had given me another historical novel, which from the first paragraph made a bid to win the reader's allegiance by having the first-person narrator think about books and the Dewey Decimal system. Highly improbable. Yet it was obviously meant to flatter the reader into feeling like an intellectual (oh, I hove books and libraries, too!). I didn't get very far before putting it down and trying Bog Child instead.
What a difference! In the first pages, an unerring ear for language. An observant eye for natural details and the relations between a boy and his uncle, for landscape and the textures of a peat bog being harvested mechanically (and poached surreptitiously by hand) . Most of all, throughout the rest of the novel. Dowd had enough confidence in her story to tell it as honestly and truly as possible. Now that's a treasure for readers and inspiration for writers. So do yourself a favor: look into Siobhan Dowd.

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