Saturday, 25 January 2020

A SWIFT PURE CRY by Siobhan Dowd. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull


   I read this book some years ago and remembered little except that I loved it, both for the astonishing story and for the writing.

   The beginning is slow, but far from dull, as it takes the reader into both the outward and inner life of Shell, a fifteen-year-old girl. Shell is coping with grief over the death of her mother a few years before and her father's descent into heavy drinking and neglect of his children. There are two younger children who are left entirely to the care of Shell. She's a loving girl, efficient around the home and the children, but somewhat less of an achiever at school. Her best friend, Bridie Quinn, seems more worldly-wise. There is also Father Rose, the new, uncertain young priest, who is wrestling with the difficulties of his vocation; and Declan Ronan, a charming, clever, self-centred boy who has no care for anyone but himself. Declan roves between Bridie and Shell.

   The inevitable happens. Shell finds she is pregnant - and, because she doesn't know what to do and daren't tell anyone, she retreats into denial. Here the story takes a shocking turn. When I first read this book I could scarcely believe some of the scenes that followed. But there is much more to come - and things get worse, until I started to wonder how much Shell could endure.

   This is a sad, shocking tale (apparently based on a true story) but Shell is a survivor and the ending, although heartbreaking, is also full of joy and hope. The characterisation is utterly convincing and the writing is beautiful: lively, assured, poetic and easy to read.



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