Monday, 19 April 2010

Review: a Swift Pure Cry

Dear Blog,
*sits down on chair*
Now then. A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd.

Summary (from the inside flap): For 15-year-old Shell Talent, life has been hard since the death of her mam. Her dad has given up work and turned his back on reality, leaving Shell to care for her younger brother and sister. She’s bored of church and regularly skips school. With her friends Bridie and Declan, she shares cigarettes and irreverent jokes.
But when Father Rose, a new young priest, arrives in her small Irish community, something mysteriously shifts. Mam’s spirit seems to return to earth, a kindly ghost. Shell tries on the old pink satin dress hidden in the back of Dad’s wardrobe-to strange, disturbing effect.
Soon Shell finds herself in the centre of an escalating scandal that rocks Coolbar to its foundations and has repercussions across the country. All her courage and strength is needed to face the ordeal, in this magnificent and heartbreaking novel, inspired by a true story.

The blurb gives away very little about what happens later on in the book. It just sort of paints the picture-her mother is dead, her obsessively religious father has left work and given up everything, and she's left to take care of her younger siblings. It doesn't reveal that her "friend" Declan takes advantage of her and she ends up pregnant.  I can't say anything else because it will spoil a truly brilliant book.

Review: On the front of the edition I read, it says, “Sometimes a classic comes out of the blue.” I have two things to say about this-
a classic It annoys me when critics call books “modern classics” or say, “people will read this for years to come.” I mean, there are several modern YA classics- Junk, Forever, Out of the Dust, How I Live Now, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Book Thief, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time…the list goes on. But it’s hard to tell really if something will be a classic. Will these books still be around in 50, even 20 years?
So I was wondering if A Swift Pure Cry really joins such books on the shelf. I think, well, it kind of does. In a quiet sort of way. It sits on the shelf and people pick it up and read the blurb and either buy it or think about it and buy it later or whatever. But it has a place on every Waterstones and Smiths’ shelf, and finds a way into your life. Whether you’ve read it or not, if somebody mentions it, chances are you’ll say “oh, yes.” And recall seeing it on Amazon/in the library/on a bookshelf. It is everywhere.

Out of the blue Personally, if I was Siobhan Dowd (she died in 2007 but say she was still alive), I would be slightly annoyed at this-like my popular novel had just appeared from somewhere of no importance. That I was unimportant and from nowhere special. But since it’s publication Siobhan’s books Bog Child, The London Eye Mystery and Solace of the Road (the latter I’ve been wanting to read for a while) have been published, and she is not so out of the blue anymore. So you’d think.

Anyway. Apparently A Swift Pure Cry is based on a true story. It is certainly somewhat believable as something you might read in a paper.
First things first: It is a pretty heavy book dealing with pretty heavy issues. It's one of those no-hope-in-sight books that compells you to keep reading to find out if there is any.  Hope, I mean.  If they made it into a film (It would be fantastic if they did), I should hope Laura Marling's song (No) Hope in the Air would feature somewhere in the soundtrack.  I imagine soundtracks to books all the time.   Anyway, Hope in the Air practically tells the story of the book, with lines like "Our hearts are small and ever thinning/there is no hope ever of winning" but- "there's hope the air/there's hope in the water" (Though that's followed by, "but sadly not me/your last serving daughter).  Either way, it shows that despite much despair there is hope somewhere.  There's a whole, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" thing going on* For example, when Shell is giving birth and her brother and sister help in whatever way they can, is particularly touching.  Shell's pregnancy and when she gives birth reminds me a little of Melissa in Jamila Gavin's Coram Boy.  Except that Melissa was not entirely alone. 
I'm not quite sure what to make of Shell, the heroine. She seemed both strong and small and innocent and sometimes a little bit stupid- what she sees in Declan is beyond me.  And how could she **MAJOR SPOILER LOOK AWAY IF YOU'VE NOT READ IT** not realise that her baby was dead?!  **MAJOR SPOILER OVER**  But I think that balance makes a good character; nobody's perfect.  Nay, some characters annoy me with their perfect-ness, like they were made for saving the world.  Lyra from His Dark Materials  for example.  Is she really 12?  22 more like.   Anyway, Shell's innocence sometimes seemed to be more like ignorance, as the above spoiler shows. 
Anyway, when it is innocence, Shell's innocence sort of makes it more gripping when her life is collapsing around her.  And you shout, "yay!" when she finally  emerges at the other end and all is (slightly) well.

I found A Swift Pure Cry interesting at first, and then suddenly it stopped being interesting and instead got  so compelling I read the last half in one sitting, intent on unravelling the truth.  It's a beautiful story about love, loss,  life, death, corruption, and grief.  Warning: afterwards you may feel the need to read something happy. 

Reccomended for: Teens and adults with a box of tissues to hand, and free time so they can spend hours just reading.
Rating: 3.5 (would have been 4 but I took some off because of Shell). 

*my friend Emma says "when life gives you lemons, throw them back and demand Edward Cullen!" Personally I find him creepy and I would say, "throw them back and demand Yuki Sohma!" *happy sigh*  or "books!" or, "Japan!"

1 comment:

  1. i think i like this book because it is very lovingly written by the magnificent author. i buy it in hardback copy and would tell all other people about and tell them to read it. it is simply wonderful. Siobhan, you need start writing more ones like this!!!!!!


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