A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd–an Irish traverse

TitleA Swift Pure Cry
Author: Siobhan Dowd
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9780385751087
311 pages
: 2006
Source: public library
Rating: 4/5
Challenges/ResolutionsTravel the Globe Resolution

Reason for Reading: I admit that I tried to find something with a but more controversy or issues of a larger scale, but I couldn’t really find one. I landed on this because 1) it’s set in Ireland (County Cork) and 2) the author is Irish.

This is the fifth round (of six) for my Travel the Globe Resolution, which I’m doing with a blogger friend, Shannon at Giraffe Days.
Here is Shannon’s review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. 

Shell is a teenager in County Cork, 1984. Her mother is recently deceased, her father is lost, and she has two younger siblings for which to care. To escape, Shell turns to a young new priest and her old childhood friend, Declan. Unfortunately for Shell, Declan runs off to American with no warning before she has the chance to tell him she is pregnant–which she is fervently denying to herself anyway. But Shell lives in a small town–where gossip runs rampant–and, upon the discovery of a dead baby boy in a cave near town, she becomes entangled in a police investigation.

One thing that really interested me during the story were some ancient stereotypes. First let me list some of them and then I’ll explain why I found it interesting.

  • Shell’s father is a drunk
  • Shell’s father is unemployed
  • Shell’s father is a thief
  • Shell is a young Catholic girl who got pregnant because of unprotected sex

Over a century ago there were a lot of Irish people immigrating to the United States. Common stereotypes were that the Irish were drunks, unemployable, thieves, and had huge families because they were irresponsible (and didn’t have protected sex). These old stereotypes were very strange things to find in the story, I thought. I kept wondering why Dowd would further such things in a story. And then I thought she might not be furthering them, but she may just want to bring it up (but that made me think that if she’s bringing it up, then maybe it’s somewhat normal, thus furthering the stereotypes). In the end, I figured that I was probably just putting too much thought into it, so I stopped thinking about it a lot.

I don’t think that I really learned very much about Ireland from the story. The only issues brought up were on a very small scale. Because of Shell’s father is unemployed, the family is “on the social” (I’m assuming that’s the equivalent of America’s welfare system)–but that’s the biggest that issue got. Religiously speaking, the new young (naive) priest has to be warned to not put himself in compromising situations with young women in the town because of “what’s been going on in the church lately.” I hadn’t realized that the issue with Catholic clergy abusing their position of power went as far back as the 1980s.

I am pretty certain that the main reason I feel I didn’t learn very much about Ireland is this: the cultures of modern US and Ireland are pretty much the same. The only part that was a bit foreign to me was the Catholic aspect.

All in all, though, I found the story to be pretty interesting. The part involving the police investigation really was a different spin on a story that I totally didn’t see going in that direction. And it was the sort of investigation that the reader knew the truth about. I just wanted to yell at a certain character and knock some sense into him.


2 thoughts on “A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd–an Irish traverse

  1. My sister is dating a guy from Ireland, so I have become more interested in literature set in Ireland so I can bug him with a lot of questions! This one sounds good.

  2. I managed to finish mine this morning – now I just need the bub to give me some time to write the review! I’m not sure you could have an Irish novel without Catholicism – it seems to be a pretty huge part of life there! But it’s interesting, how this book seemed to just be about big stereotypes. I think the one I read did a better job in that regard – it’s something I’ll have to keep in mind as I’m reviewing it.

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