Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Two for the price of one…

Today I am having a wee chat to you about Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd and Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson. One of the reasons I’m doing a double review is that I’ve reviewed so many books about teen boys lately and I’m really hoping to change direction a bit, but these two are just too good not to share.  The other reason is that I read them both at the same time.  Nothing much unusual in that – I can be reading many books at the same time… my bed book, my car (waiting in the…!!!) book, my bath book, my bag book.  If I carry a book around then I know for sure that it’s an incredible book. But reading all these books at the same time never phases me.  I can pick a book up and continue as though I’d never put it down… except with these two.  I had to stop and concentrate on only one at a time.  The books, essentially are completely different, yet my mind seemed unable to differentiate between them.  I’ve tried to analyse why but I’m at a loss.  I’ve never come across this before, even in books by the same author.  Either I’m losing my touch here or there’s some other subliminal reason… someone much smarter out there might be able to enlighten me.

bog child Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Fergus finds the murdered body of a child in a peat bog.  The grisly find is right on the border between Northern and Southern Ireland, it’s 1981, a time of troubles and tension, his brother is on hunger strike in the notorious Maze prison and Fergus is pushed into a dangerous situation he has trouble reconciling himself with.  I really don’t want to give away any of the plot of this spectacularly put together book because I know that it’s one of those unfolding narratives that you just have to journey on yourself.  The writing is fantastic, with the opener…

They’d stolen a march on the day.  The sky was like dark glass, reluctant to let the light through.  The only sound was the chudder of the van skirting the lough. The surface of the water was colourless.  The hills slumped down on the far side like silhouettes of snoozing giants.

Fergus yawned. it was still before five as they turned off up the mountain road.  Uncle Tally chewed on nothing as the tyres lumbered over the ruts. Fregus cradled the flask of sweet black tea.  There’s been no milk in the fridge that morning.

There’s a dual narrative in this book with Fergus taking the lead and the story of the person buried in the bog as a lesser, but not less significant strand.  Both are united in the themes of political conflict, self-sacrifice and ultimately love and death and both equally as powerful in their message.  This truly is a remarkable book.

Sadly, Siobhan Dowd died in August 2007 at the age of 47.  But she left behind a trust to help disadvantaged children in the UK and Ireland discover and experience the joy of reading.  You can find the website at The Siobhan Dowd Trust.

creature Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson

Bobby’s mother moves the family from inner city Dublin to a rented cottage in the countryside to escape Bobby’s spiralling delinquency and, we later discover, her debts.  There’s a cupboard under the stairs in the cottage, full of junk and some belongings of the previous tenant whose passport is amongst them and his car still stands in the driveway.  Bobby wonders how the tenant can have moved on when all this stuff is still in the house but he can think about little else but how to get back to Dublin. So instead of taking advantage of his new start, Bobby takes the car.  The house is close to a farm and the family try to interest Bobby in helping out on the land, but to begin with Bobby is a reluctant farmhand.  All he wants to do is get drunk, steal and joyride round the streets of Dublin.  Underlying the main theme is a more supernatural element when it’s revealed his younger half-brother appears to be talking to someone in the dead of night and they are warned to leave a saucer of milk out for the faeries.

I saw Kate Thompson at an event in Edinburgh where she read a passage from Creature of the Night and discussed some of the themes.  I was intrigued when someone commented about how horrible Bobby was to his mother and how she didn’t deserve it and he was a really awful child to treat his well meaning mother in this way.  I hadn’t read the book by then, but this observation stuck in my head.  After I read the book I discovered that I felt entirely the opposite.  Bobby was a poor lad to be saddled with such a nightmare of a parent.  I thought her mothering skills were sorely lacking and that Bobby’s main problem was actually her.  One of the pivotal points in the story is when Bobby realises his mother was his age when she gave birth to him, only fourteen.  Now I fully understand she was a young mother, but I still had little sympathy for her.  I was surprised that this book had engendered such polar opposite reactions, so I emailed Kate Thomson (I have become brazen in my old age!!) to tell her the other person was wrong (I’m overconfident too!).  She sent me a lovely reply saying she hadn’t intended it to come across as one way or the other.  So we were both right.

Creature of the Night, for me is a fantastic book for so many reasons; the growth of Bobby through his own hard work, all the characters that leap from the page and the warmth and generosity of the local people.  I love the supernatural element and the Irish folk tales, the murder mystery that Bobby finds himself on after finding clues in the cupboard and the gradual realisation that Bobby has about his life in the city.

These two books are superb, really gripping reads for boys especially, any teen boy will immediately identify with both these main characters.  But if you buy them at the same time, I would advise reading one after the other, since if you’re anything like me, you may end up confused*.

*disclaimer: that’s a regular occurrence for me, so I maybe wouldn’t worry Big Grin

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve has a full time job as a children's bookseller. She was, in fact, the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love then really has to be literature for children and teens, although she has been known to read grown-up books (not very often though - they didn't put in enough hours when they invented days). She especially loves to find brand new authors and is always on the lookout for a stunning début... Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website : EveHarvey.com

5 comments on “Two for the price of one…

  1. Luisa
    September 27, 2008

    Fascinating reviews of great books. I loved reading these.

    We’ve just interviewed Kate Thompson on Chicklish, and I’ve linked to this review – I hope that’s OK!

    ( http://keris.typepad.com/chicklet/2008/09/interview-kate.html )

  2. DJ Kirkby
    September 27, 2008

    Hello the widget brought me here.

  3. Jackie
    September 27, 2008

    Both books have to do with secrets, I wonder if that’s why they seem so similar in your mind? The excerpt from Dowd’s book is very vivid, it’s sad that she’s passed on and won’t be writing more. She was still young, too.
    I’m tempted to read the Thompson book to see which side I’d take. It sounds like a very modern day story, realistically done.
    Thanks for broadening our horizons here at VL, it’s good to know youth novels have moved beyond The Hardy Boys. lol

  4. Leena
    September 28, 2008

    Thanks for these, Eve – they sound very interesting. I’d heard of Bog Child before but forgot both the title and the author’s name, so this was a welcome reminder!!

    A bit off-topic, but have you read A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb? I’m v. curious about that one…

  5. Eve
    October 3, 2008

    Oh dear… do I get the prize for the most ridiculously late response to comments? Sorry… sorry… sorry… blame my addled brain :(

    Luisa, thank you and without a doubt, yes – that’s brilliant. I shall be over in a bit to read and comment :)

    Hello DJ Kirby – lovin’ those Black Boxes, I am completely addicted.

    Jackie – that may well be the reason, the boys were both hiding something (as boys have a tendency to do!). Oh yes, it would be lovely to know whose side you were on. I thought it was fascinating that two people read the same book and felt so differently about it – and we were both very vehement in our beliefs. Thank you for your kind words.

    Hi Leena, no I haven’t read A Certain Slant of Light, but I’ve just had a look on Amazon and added it to my wish list. I love the idea of a story with the MC as a ghost… my kind of book.

    Thanks everyone… and apologies again for my tardiness.

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This entry was posted on September 27, 2008 by in Entries by Eve, Fiction: young adult and tagged , , , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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