Wednesday, July 18, 2007

book of the week: a swift pure cry *spoilers*

With an eloquence that never undermines or falsely elevates misery, but is ceaseless in its engagement with, and love of, language, A Swift Pure Cry is the book I was lucky enough to read last week. Pushing the gasping, heart-in-mouth plot aside, which, incidentally, delivers complete satisfaction, it is Siobhan Dowd’s artful, yet still intuitive game with words that lifts A Swift Pure Cry above it’s synopsis as just another dreary Irish teenage pregnancy saga. Dowd’s Ireland is, to some extent, the Ireland we’ve seen countless times before, shrouded in a perpetual mist of whisky, confession and drizzle. And yet, snatching from Joyce and Maeve Binchy in equal measures, Dowd presents an Ireland I would never want to visit, but which holds you hostage nonetheless, taking tired stereotypes and turning them into the tangible and utterly unromantic. In the book’s central turning point, in the midst of the sickness, horror and panic, I found myself laughing on a busy train with a kind of desperate hysteria, as the protagonist's younger siblings, Jimmy and Trix, prepared all the things they believed necessary for the deliverance of babies. Twine, scissors, a plastic bin-bag, old doll’s clothes and a cardboard box, “lidless and thickly lined with cotton wool”. Such black, nasty humour, poking delicate fun at Jimmy and Trix’s strange combination of naivety and practicality epitomises what makes this book special. There is no misty-eyed pathos - just simple experience; no overdone sentimentality - but a gentle, not entirely confident whisper of compassion; no easy endings but potentially better beginnings; and bright, sometimes lurid, word pictures, taking a story that has been done countless times before and making it into a fresh vehicle for startling writing. A Swift Pure Cry indeed.


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