by Siobhan Dowd
Opening line--"They'd stolen a march on the day."
I haven't read much historical fiction that's set in the recent past, so this was a new experience for me. It does start me wondering about where the line is drawn between historical and contemporary fiction. Five years? Ten years? Twenty? Or is it something fuzzier?
I have to admit that I don't know much about Northern Ireland in the time of the Troubles. I mean, I know that they happened and I know a bit about the historical factors that went into creating them. But I didn't know about the hunger strike in 1981 or The Maze. Despite this, Dowd managed to convey a sense of the time and the unrelenting tension. She was able to provide just the right balance of information, in my opinion. Not too little--I wasn't simply confused by the names and places--and not so much that I felt like she was saying "Look at all the research I did!"
The story itself is haunting--I've caught myself thinking of it several times since finishing. There were a few points I wasn't quite as sure about--Cora seemed a bit tacked on somehow. I never entirely bought her character and fleshing out her motivations could have helped with that. I'm also not entirely sure how Mel's story and Fergus's overlap. They do, obviously, but I'm not entirely clear on the thematic connection.*
I found the fantastical element convincing overall. Mel's story was well drawn out, although I did feel a tad blindsided by the big reveal. At the same time, it made sense and made the whole thing just a little more tragic.
Unfortunately, due to Siobhan Dowd's untimely death, I've already read half of her published works. I do still want to read Solace of the Road
*that sounds really English-majory, but it's the best way I can think of to say it. What I'm still puzzled about is what the two stories actually say to each other.
Book source: public library
Book information: Random House, 2008
My other Siobhan Dowd review:The London Eye Mystery