A bit late I know – but here it is!
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
One part environmental lecture and one part rural domestic drama, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour gets stuck in the mud of Cub’s Appalachian sheep farm. In the opening pages the main protagonist Dellarobia appears to be about to start an affair as she runs away from her life as a mother and farmer’s wife. However the arrival of millions of Monarch butterflies In the woods above her home changes all that and she finds herself first as a sort of Butterfly saint in her local church and then as a proto scientist.
The story seeks to expose the fragility of the planet with global warming as part of the backdrop. It also centres on a series of set piece bust ups and confrontations which although entertaining in their own chapter don’t always take the story on.
It’s Dellarobia versus Cub; Dellarobia versus her mother in law Hester; Dellarobia versus Pete the scientist. In fact it’s Dellarobia versus the world as she rages at her life, for getting married so young, of not having any qualifications or a career, or simply living such a low down and humble life.
Apart from her good looks the one thing she has got is a sense of humour which she uses in a series of lively, witty and sparky conversations as she bats against a long list of humourless characters. And that’s where the novel is at its best. It’s no contest against dullard hubby Cub as he declares, “Weather is the Lord’s business.” In reply Dellarobia fires back: “People used to say the same thing whenever some disease came along and killed all the children. ‘It’s part of God’s plan.’ Now we give them vaccinations. Is that defying God?” Cub made no reply.
She may be poor but she is grounded which helps her in her exchanges with the scientist Ovid, Pete and the rich kid students who descend on the farm to study the mystery of the migrating Monarch butterflies who give the novel its title.
Focalising through Dellarobia we see the world through her eyes and her sense of humour which makes it a conversational and entertaining read if excessively long and at times repetitive. If only she could have had that affair at the beginning of the story we might have been spared the lengthy church scenes, the Christmas shopping trip and the painfully educational conversations with well-heeled scientists.
Flight Behaviour was shortlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2013 and published in 2012.