What’s it all about?:
Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.
What did I think?:
Having read and loved Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, I was eager to read her latest offering, in particular because it was shortlisted for the Woman’s Prize for Fiction 2013. (Please see my previous post HERE). When we first meet our main character Dellarobia, she is fleeing from a stale marriage to begin an affair with a man she barely knows. On her way to the rendez-vous point with her potential lover, she climbs the hills on the grounds behind her home to an amazing sight – multiple strange growths on trees and a valley filled with what looks like flames. Astounded by this, she takes it as a sign that she should return to her family and spurn the man she was escaping with. Later on, we learn that the growths and flames are colonies of Monarch butterflies, which have unusually chose the Appalachians as their spot to roost, instead of their usual spot in Mexico. The butterflies end up attracting scientists and media attention the world over due to this strange occurrence, and when it turns out that this may be all down to global warming, Dellarobia’s life changes beyond which she ever could have imagined.
I thought this was an absolutely beautiful book which manages to communicate the drastic issues of climate change without sounding in the slightest bit preachy. There is a quote on the front of the paperback copy that I own to the effect that the author makes us “think, feel and care” all at once, and I completely concur! This is a wonderfully told story of human relationships, family life, religion and science that all seem to mould together to form a cohesive whole interesting the reader enough that we feel connected to these fictional characters in some way (and the butterflies, of course, whom I formed quite an attachment to). Personally, I was concerned about what was going to happen to these individuals, and when a piece of fiction is not “action-packed,” it is hugely important for me that I felt sympathetic and understanding of the issues otherwise I would have just put the book down, bored to tears. The strength of the writing and of the characters prevents this from happening, and is made all the more poignant for the Afterword where Kingsolver tells us that climate change has actually affected the roosting places of Monarch butterflies (although she fictionalised the setting of the Appalachians). I would definitely class Barbara Kingsolver as amongst one of my favourite authors and consider this a worthy short-lister for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):