“Flight Behaviour” by Barbara Kingsolver

imageI have hit a new low, guys. It took me twenty days to finish this book. Almost three weeks to finish a book that had less than 500 pages. I am so ashamed of myself. Ordinarily, if a book takes me this long, it’s because I didn’t like it. But not this time. This time, it was because real life decided to become so annoyingly stressful and demanding that I had to let reading take a back seat. Which I hate because I have three books on my shelf that aren’t mine and I should have had at least two of them finished by now.

Anyway, now that I’ve finally finished, I can get stuck into Flight Behaviour. This book was an interesting experience. I didn’t read this book for the plot. I read it for the language. Have you ever done that? Been so caught up in the beauty of the language that you just keep reading? There are a lot of books that I’ve read that have had beautiful language, but most of them have awesome plots too. Flight Behaviour was different. Well, for me anyway. I wasn’t overly invested in the plot. Flight Behaviour follows Dellarobia Turnbow (yes, really) and her journey after discovering millions of monarch butterflies on the mountain behind her family’s property.

This book is all about climate change. And maybe that’s why the story didn’t grip me. Dellarobia is faced with a beautiful phenomenon that she learns is symptomatic of a broken ecosystem. There are some bits and pieces of subplots thrown in about her family, her husband, and her psyche, but mostly this book is an argument about climate change. Not even just about climate change, but the attitudes regarding climate change. Which was interesting, but not why I kept reading.

Kingsolver has an amazing way with words. I found myself reading pages and pages just to keep getting those sparkling one-liners that spoke to the writer in me. This entire book was written superbly, but every once in a while there was a line that made me stop and reread. At least three times. I want to give an example, but there are too many to choose from and making this decision feels impossible. I suggest you simply read this book.

Impeccable, perfect, sublime language aside, I feel there were some problems with characterisation. A lot of the character development happens in dribs and drabs. We get a whole lot about a character, then nothing, then more. There’s no slow build. For example, the Turnbow children, Preston and Cordelia. We don’t really get to know these children until approximately a third of the way through the book. It all happens in this one scene where Preston and Cordelia have to interact with their babysitter’s offspring. I feel like we should have gleaned a lot of these kids’ personalities way before this point.

There’s also the fact that I never really connected with the characters. Not in any real way. I understood the situation the characters found themselves in, but I never really felt anything. Except in the final scene, where Dellarobia is explaining a significant familial change to Preston. Who was only six.

I feel like Kingsolver really just wanted to explore the issue of climate change, but didn’t have the stomach for an essay. Or a report. So she did a whole lot of research and presented her findings in a 500 page novel. Is this a bad thing? No. Is it a good thing? Well, maybe. Like I said, I didn’t read this book for the story. And I feel like I should have. Especially when the book is about such a serious issue.

The take-away here is that Flight Behaviour is for writers, lovers of language, or people who want to know more about climate change. If you are looking for a gripping plot with relatable characters, then maybe look elsewhere.

★★★★

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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2 Responses to “Flight Behaviour” by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. bornandread says:

    I completely agree with you on this one – even though Kingsolver almost always has a ‘point’ to her novels, this one felt particularly like the point (climate change) was the main thing and the characters were fairly secondary. But she is such a great writer that she gets away with it. Have you read Prodigal Summer – it’s much, much better – both in the language she uses and the storyline.

    • Bec Graham says:

      She does get away with it. That’s the mark of an incredible talent. I may have to check out Prodigal Summer, though. If I liked Flight Behaviour, I’ll probably love Prodigal Summer. 🙂

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