Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Review: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

I missed my stop on the subway twice because of this book. It's such a quiet book I wouldn't have expected that to happen, but because it's a quiet book with a lot going on, you want to pay close attention, so you can figure out what's going on as Fergus does.

It's 1981, the Troubles are going strong in Ireland, and Fergus' brother Joe is in jail for his participation. The leader of a hunger strike in the prison where Joe is being kept has just died, and everyone is concerned about what will happen next. When Fergus and his Uncle Tally cross the border dividing Ireland to dig up some peat, their biggest concern is getting back to their side of the border without getting caught. While digging in the bog they discover what appears to be the body of a young girl. Since they're so close to the border of the two parts of Ireland, authorities from both sides come to investigate. Neither want any part in looking into the horrible murder of a child, but when it's revealed the girl is actually ancient - from AD 80 - suddenly everyone wants to be involved.

Fergus, as the discoverer, gets to be part of the research process - and strikes up a friendship, then a romance, with the daughter of the lead researcher. In the meantime, he also needs to balance family concerns as his brother joins in the hunger strikers. As part of a desperate attempt to get Joe to stop starving himself, Fergus agrees to help out a local boy he knew in school by running mysterious packages across the poorly guarded border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Oh, and Fergus is also studying to take his final exams, desperate to get at least a B in all of them so he can study medicine at university. And his dreams are regularly haunted by the story of the bog child, called Mel, and how she came to be entombed in the bog.

There's a lot going on in this book, but Dowd weaves together the multiple story-lines flawlessly. This was a book that I definitely couldn't put down.
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