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.
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.
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.
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