Siobhan Dowd could turn me into a terrorist. And that’s quite a statement from someone as square and principled as the old witch. Mind you, where I was a teenager it was almost taken for granted that you’d support the IRA.
To clarify matters, Siobhan’s new book Bog Child, does not try and convert readers to become terrorists, or even suggest which side you should be on. All Siobhan shows is how easy it was (still is?) to put pressure on people.
Setting a teen novel in Northern Ireland in 1981 isn’t the most tempting beginning to a book. At least not to me. But Bog Child is a master piece. I can’t think of another way to describe it. I should stop being surprised at what Siobhan could do with her writing. I just wish there was a lot more to come, while being grateful for this third story of hers.
Bog Child, as the title suggests, is partly about a very old dead body found in a bog on the Northern Ireland/Eire borders. It’s 1981, and Bobby Sands has just died after his hunger strike. Fergus, the main character, is sitting his A-levels, hoping for a way out of Ireland. His brother is in jail and Fergus is hounded by an old friend of his brother’s on the one hand, and on the other he makes the acquaintance of a British soldier. Having found the body in the bog with his uncle, Fergus feels close to the dead girl, and can hear her voice inside him. He re-visits the burial ground with the expert from Dublin, and falls in love with her daughter Cora.
The early eighties is an odd period to look back to. It’s long enough ago to feel very dated and old, while it’s far too recent to qualify as a historical setting. For the adult who lived through this period it will feel very different, compared to how the teenager of today will see it. To revert to my old and worn sentiment – Bog Child really should be read in schools. It explains far more of the Irish question than anything else I’ve come across.
On a more personal note, it was in the spring of 1981 that I decided to try fasting. Some coincidence.