Reader Gut Reaction: Every time I read another of Siobhan Dowd’s books—there aren’t many—I’m reminded anew of the tragedy that her loss constitutes. Her writing is amazing, and so is her own personal history. This novel is her first, and while I don’t want to give too much away, I will say that I don’t necessarily gravitate toward serious, weighty stories about family scandal and the limitations of small-town life. But I will read everything she writes, because her prose is so clear, perfect and striking, regardless of theme. She brings out the exquisite pain and beauty even in difficult, ugly situations. And, in the end, I couldn’t put this one down.
Concerning Character: The main character, Shell Talent, is fifteen years old, but she’s the woman of the house now, mothering her little brother and sister and keeping a wide berth around her father, who has slipped into alcoholism since her mother died. School and church hardly seem relevant when she has dinner to cook, laundry to do, and an unpredictable father to avoid. She’s got a tough exterior, but inside she’s still hurting, and she’s got more questions than answers. When the young, handsome new priest Father Rose moves to their tiny Ireland town and provides a sympathetic ear for Shell and her troubles, he also inadvertently provokes gossip, and things start getting even more complicated. Then comes the scandal, and the mystery…
Recommended for Fans Of…: Stories about coming to terms with the death of a family member, and books with quiet but vivid and lyrical writing, like Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart (reviewed here), The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta (reviewed here and Deadville by Ron Koertge.
Themes & Things: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this one owes a great debt to the work of James Joyce, the Quintessential Irish Writer in the minds of many. Though the two writers share a national identity and other profound similarities with respect to growing up Irish, this is not the story of a young man struggling with intangible issues of faith and identity, but that of a young woman grappling with all-too-harsh realities. While Shell’s story isn’t always an easy one to read, it’s testament to the human spirit’s ability to endure and heal.
Authorial Asides: A Swift Pure Cry is Siobhan Dowd’s first novel. I also reviewed Bog Child (here) and hope to read A Monster Calls soon—her posthumously published work written with Patrick Ness. Siobhan Dowd won the 2008 Cybils Award in Middle Grade Fiction for her novel The London Eye Mystery.
Review Copy Source: Library.
You can find A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd at an independent bookstore near you!