Friday, 28 March 2014

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Bog Child

So, Bog Child. As the list of reviews at the beginning explains, it’s obviously very popular. The Sunday Times exclaims ‘the work of an outstanding writer.’ Without sounding too, how to put it, British, I’ve never really believed the Sunday Times. Siobhan Dowd- which is a name good enough to star in a story- is a writer and writes raw human emotion outstandingly but I wouldn’t say she’s an outstanding writer. In my opinion, a good writer writes a brilliant plot, and then fits the characters to it. In this case, the plot is character led. The story is about what the characters do, with only common sense to drive them, rather than a brilliant plot. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plot. Oh no! The plot is basic; a boy needs to pass his exams. That’s the basic synopsis. And then the author piles on everything else: the state of his slowly falling apart family; the involvement of the IRA; the fact he’s falling in love; the impending death- of not only that of his brother but of people he believes to have died because of him and of course the mystery of the bog child.

The story is based around Fergus, a character who you believe could exist. The story tells of how he interacts with the world around him, a world that is all too real. The story lacks that one thing that, in my opinions, defines all stories of greatness. Imagination. Fergus finds a dead body in the bog. The story details the archaeological search into it, but this, quite possibly, could be true. He falls in love with the archaeologists daughter, and ends up with a broken heart. But this also could be true.

He is forced to do runs, apparently, for the IRA. With a tiny stretch of the imagination, this could also happen, in that period of time, specifically. His brother is involved with the IRA and then ends up on hunger strike. This, as well, is all too possible. The whole story could quite possibly be a biography, with a few bits slightly fabricated. To me, a story is meant to take you out of the boring world in which we live. This story just puts us back in time to this awful world- but in the world’s most terrible time.

Cora is a very annoying character, if you ask me. She goes from being this relatable, interesting, on a blue moon, funny character to a very depressed, hippy, peace, ‘free the animals’ Goth style character- but in stages of course, as not even a teenage girl with confused emotions could display that many sides at once. And no answer is really given, a light suggestion about her parents relationship perhaps but not satisfying. In my opinion, Cora is merely there to provide a childish view of the story and allow Fergus to have yet another problem on his plate!

And then we have the hunger strike. This part of the story does nothing for the plot, besides pulling your mind away from the pure fact that the story is based around one kid either passing or not passing his exams. Without giving away the plot, the hunger strike problem is solved very easily, begging the question: why put him on hunger strike at all?

The main reason is that it allows for something intriguing to be on the blurb and the whole distraction point of view, but truthfully, I think it’s just a sign of a weak story needing something else to help it become readable.

The family falling apart is ok, but ‘Da’ just so easily giving in to ‘Ma’ and her demands isn’t very realistic. I honestly feel sorry for the Casey’s. Do they ever get a break from the tyranny of Theresa and Cath? I would love to read a sequel about the Casey’s- perhaps called ‘Swamp Child’- where it turns out that  ‘Uno’ the notorious Irish bomb maker is actually secretly Bruno Casey- the uncle of the Casey family, lead to the point of terrorism by the unstoppable evil cackle of Theresa and Dwarf impressions of Cath. Sigh. We can all have our dreams. 

But, enough of the negatives!  There are some brilliant parts. The best part, in my opinion, is the gigantic plot twist at the end. I won’t tell you what it is, but it is absolutely genius and probably the highlight of the book. And it’s a six word sentence which I believe gives a perfect interpretation of the book from my point of view.

But let’s draw our attention to the name of the book. The Bog Child. Who turns out to be called Mel. Without telling you much about her story, Mel’s life is very Romeo and Julietesque. A tragic love story and a brilliant twist in the tail, her story is worthy of full concentration instead of the very boring affair of Fergus’ exam results! Definitely the second best part of the story and stops the story from falling below dismal. Thank goodness for dual plot points!  

Now for a highlight about a character that probably isn’t that popular with the serious book reviewer. Padraig is brilliant! He provides the story with a superb point of perspective, your world may be ending but the universe goes on, which is a highly enjoyable notion. His constant jokes are brilliant parts of the novel and the amount of times I’ve told the ‘extractor fan’ joke over the past few days, is really quite terrifying!

Now, I think that although the story is meant to be human- something that annoys me a lot- I don’t think anything is as human as the relationship between Owain and Fergus. Their friendship is simply life personified, the fact that no matter who you are and where you are, you can still make friends. The minute that Owain meets Fergus, thousands of rules are broken! There is a touching moment when Owain jokes about shooting Fergus and Fergus jokes he’s a terrorist. It’s this moment in which you realise that there is no chance of Owain ever shooting Fergus; despite the fact they should be fighting and have only met for that purpose, they have made a bond that can never be broken. Which makes a point, much later on in the story, even more heart wrenchingly painful. Not that I’ll tell you what it is.  And now for something completely different. The IRA runs!

For reasons I won’t explain- mainly because they ruin that part of the plot- Fergus must deliver supposed bomb packages, across the forest area. Without giving away the plot, the revealing of the contents of the packages is the best moment before the final plot twist- a bit of light relief before a gruelling end.

But the best part of all are the winding lyrics of John Lennon. They are incredible and help to place the story onto a piece of vinyl, connected from start to finish by a collection of intricate lines of existent. And the fact that they relate to each and every character means that they all exist within each other meaning that from each and every angel you see a new connection, previously unseen from all.

But is the story appropriate for year eights? I’d say no. For the pure reason that, in the whole time I read the book aloud- a grand total of six and a half paragraphs- I said more rude language than I’ve said in the entirety of my life! Also the relationship starring Fergus and Cora did go into some graphic detail. And some things happened that I’ll never be able to forget. And not in a good way.

But I can understand why people enjoy the story! The characters are believable. The situations can grab your attention. There is a comedy genius called Padraig that I believe most people would enjoy even if they hated the rest. There is an ongoing mystery of Mel and a brilliant connection to Vesuvius. There is an element of connection to Fergus, where you really connect to the character and the beauty of John Lennons lyrics allows the story to wind itself into your mind.

But in my opinion, the story isn’t the best. The positives are brilliant but sadly don’t outweigh the gigantic negatives, which drag the story down and disguise the true plot of the story. To me, Bog Child will always be a story about a kid wanting to pass his exams and the author compensating for this by throwing tons of story lines onto the pile.

In my opinion, a stories job is to free you from the world of boredom and insanity we call home. But this book just traps you there, but in the most terrible time of all.

I give it four out of ten.

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