Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver’s one of those writers who I always feel I ought to have read. I’ve had a copy of The Poisonwood Bible in the house for goodness knows how long but it’s one of those books that, every now and then, I pick up, consider and, for whatever reason, decide it doesn’t quite take my fancy right now.

When my copy of Flight Behaviour arrived, I had two thoughts. The first was that it’s huge (433 pages) – I have issues with overlong novels – and the second was a worry that it’d be boring. Then I opened the first page:

A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and its one part rapture. Or so it seemed for now, to a woman with flame-coloured hair who marched uphill to meet her demise. Innocence was no part of this. She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how hard one little flint of thrill could outweigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of long disgrace. The shame and loss would infect her children too, that was the worst of it, in a town where everyone knew them. Even the teenage cashiers at the grocery would take an edge with her after this, clicking painted fingernails on the counter while she wrote her check, eyeing the oatmeal and frozen peas of an unhinged family and exchanging looks with the bag boy: She’s that one.

I was engaged and remained so for the next 432 pages.

Flight Behaviour is the story of Dellarobia Turnbow and how climate change changes her. She’s walking up that hill in the opening paragraph of the novel to meet her lover but, as she gets higher up the forest, she looks across and sees that the trees are on fire:

The flame now appeared to lift from individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way a pine log does in a campfire when it’s poked. The sparks spiraled upwards in swirls like funnel clouds…

A forest fire, if that’s what it was, would roar. This consternation swept the mountain in perfect silence.

Dellarobia takes it as a sign, turns around and goes back to her children and husband.

Dellarobia’s married to Cub, a sheep farmer from Feathertown who works on his parents’ land – his and Dellarobia’s house is built upon it – and still does whatever his mother tells him to. Dellarobia’s frustration comes from his family’s attitude towards her:

“My family, is just, I guess, typical. They feel like a wife working outside the home is a reflection on the husband.”

Dellarobia was one of the few students in her year that was told to try out for college. She did but soon discovered she was pregnant and that was the end of that. We sympathise with her then when her frustrations with her life are channeled through crushes on other men – she swears that when we meet her marching up that hill is the only time she’s actually considered being unfaithful though.

However, when Cub reveals that his father is going to sell the forest for logging to cover debts racked up by the poor harvest the previous year, Dellarobia knows she must show them what’s on that hill and when the things that they discover lead to national press coverage, a team of scientists stationing themselves on their land and tourists visiting, she discovers she can change her life by herself.

Flight Behaviour is simply good storytelling. I say ‘simply’ because, of course, Kingsolver is experienced and skilled enough to make creating believable characters and a cracking story look simple. She covers themes of climate change, religion, small town sensibilities, family secrets, marriage and thwarted ambition without it ever feeling that her characters are merely cyphers or that we’re having her opinions spelt out to us. This is a book to get lost in.

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17 thoughts on “Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver

  1. Love this: ‘She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how hard one little flint of thrill could outweigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of long disgrace.’

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  2. I’ve always considered reading The Posionwood Bible, but somehow I never buy it. This is the first review I see of this book and the first time I hear the name of the author.

    I once attended a congress where one of the conferences linked feminism to ecology and I thought “that’s one really weird connection”, but I guess they refered to works like this one. Very interesting topic!

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  3. I read all Barbara Kingsolvers early novels and most of her essays too – but have so far not got around to either this one or The Lacuna – but I do have The Lacuna on my kindle. I have always loved her writing and must get around to her latest two novels. This sounds like a novel I would love – and puts me in mind of her novel Prodigal Summer.

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    • I’m keen to read more of her work now. Glad you like her, I’ll try and read some of her earlier stuff now as well as the later ‘biggies’.

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  4. This sounds great. I haven’t read Kingsolver, but a friend has been raving about her novels for some time, particularly The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna. I must try to read her at some point.

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  5. Kingsolver’s is one of the literary greats of my generation. The Bean agree is wonderful and a great intro to her writing. For me I couldn’t red Lacuna which was a huge shame because I have loved every thing else she has written.
    Flight Behavior must be close to Man Booker nominee. The writing is true woodsman ship. Her charachters, like her other work are few but such amazing charachters development you see them blossom or fade in front of to your eyes.
    I think it is about 100 pages too long, but do. It let the length drive you away from reading it. The pain of such a long book (and it does feel long) is seriously worth the effort.
    I am interested to read people’s comments about the ending, because it was very abrupt for me.

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    • Hi Laurie,
      I’m definitely going to read more of Kingsolver’s work.

      I thought the ending of ‘Flight Behaviour’ resolved itself fairly quickly but I think there were hints for a while before that Dellarobia was starting to think and feel differently and that eventually something was going to have to change.

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  6. Pingback: The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013: Who Should Win? | The Writes of Woman

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