I feel it's not too dramatic or extreme to say that in this book Edna O'Brien rewrites the history of women in Ireland. Based on a series of true incidents, the book tells the story of Mary, a 14 year-old girl who is raped by her father, becomes pregnant and ultimately finds herself the cause celebre of the whole country when a friend of the family tries to help her obtain an abortion in England. She is hounded by anti-abortionists, and the case goes all the way to the High Court of Ireland.
Down by the River mirrors the real events of a very similar case in almost hallucinogenic detail and it does so not by denouncing one side or the other, though the anti-abortionists are much the most strident and scarier faction, but by describing events with an almost wistful inevitability, the very opposite of the sensationalist scrum concocted by the media. For her pains, O'Brien's book was banned in Ireland. She had raised the question of how change might be brought about for women at the mercy of their biology, and of how a compassionate church could contemplate sustaining the status quo.
The book does the issue justice, telling a profound and deeply moving story with harrowing and courageous authenticity. Whichever side you are on regarding abortion, the novel asks questions of human morality, ethics and jurisprudence that are not easily answered.
Too much emphasis on lyrical descriptions and a confusing structure spoilt a novel that had the potential to be fascinating.
It is based on the true story of a young girl who caused uproar in Ireland and the Catholic church because she wanted to travel to England for an abortion.
Mary is under 14 when her father rapes her and she concieves his child. Her bewilderment and shame are well described as the whole of Ireland gets involved in the case. Both the pro and anti abortion lobies are represented, although those advocating the baby's right to live are painted in an extreme and fairly unsympathetic light.
The other main character, the father, is a weak man; expert with animals and proud of his daughter, yet unable to curb his sexual needs. I didn't feel much sympathy for him, only anger.
The story was thought provoking, but I would not recommend the book because it lacked flow and 'readability'.