Review: Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver



Title: Flight Behaviour

Author: Barbara Kingslover

Published: Faber and Faber November 2012

Synopsis: Discontented with her life of poverty on a failing farm in the Eastern United States, Dellarobia, a young mother, impulsively seeks out an affair. Instead, on the Appalachian mountains above her farm, she discovers something much more profoundly life-changing – a beautiful and terrible marvel of nature. As the world around her is suddenly transformed by a seeming miracle, can the old certainties they have lived by for centuries remain unchallenged? Flight Behaviour is a captivating, topical and deeply human novel touching on class, poverty and climate change. It is Barbara Kingsolver’s most accessible novel yet, and explores the truths we live by, and the complexities that lie behind them

Status: Read from October 24 to 25, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

On the morning that Dellarobia Turnbow resolved to take flight from her ordinary existence as a wife and mother living on a struggling rural Appalachian sheep farm owned by her in-laws, she discovered a miracle.

“Unearthly beauty had appeared to her, a vision of glory….It looked like the inside of joy”

In the valley at the peak of their property, millions of Monarch butterflies have come to rest creating the illusion of living flame, a burning bush Dellarobia is convinced was sent to stop her from making a terrible mistake. Pregnant and married at seventeen to a kind but dull man, Dellarobia, now twenty seven, is restless and unhappy. Barely tolerated by her domineering mother in law, disappointed in her husband’s passive temperament, and unable to find comfort in church and God, she was on the verge of an affair when the butterflies arrived enmasse. Dellarobia is an interesting character, not entirely sympathetic because at times she seems selfish and cold, yet I empathised with her desire to escape the narrow confines of her life. While initially witnessing the Monarch phenomena prompts Dellarobia to pledge to return home and accept her fate, the butterflies prove to be a catalyst for change.
It is Dr Ovid Byron, a scientist who comes to Feathertown to study the phenomena, that encourages Dellarobia to expand her horizons. In establishing a lab on Turnbow’s property, Byron involves Dellarobia in his work which stimulates her thirst for knowledge and gives her the confidence to stand against her bullying father in law who has plans to raze the valley to supplement the farm’s income.

Kingsolver is known for the strong political and environmental themes in her novels and Flight Behaviour explores the issue of climate change. The Monarchs have been displaced from their usual roosting area in the mountains of Mexico by floods that caused catastrophic mudslides, only to be threatened by the atypical weather in Feathertown. The author explores cause and effect, emphasising the local impact of climate change for the community in an effort to relate the melting of polar ice caps to the more immediate concerns of farmers. The message is clear and for the most part, Kingsolver binds it well with the story though she doesn’t avoid impassioned lecturing altogether, reprimanding the media for ignoring the scientific fact in favour of advertising dollars and viewer ratings. Kingsolver also explores the issues of contrast such as religion versus science, wealth versus poverty and education versus ignorance and how they relate to the environmental crisis. The scene that especially struck me involved Dellarobia answering the well meaning petitioner about her personal efforts to lower her carbon footprint. It raised interesting questions about environmental responsibility, contribution and awareness.

There are touches of humor to offset the intensity of Kingsolvers serious exploration of climate change, and the authenticity of the characters prevent the story from becoming dry and ponderous, though I can’t deny it did drag at times. The writing is finely crafted, descriptions vivid, yet the dialogue is still authentic.

Flight Behaviour is a compelling novel that has a thoughtful, important message about environmental stewardship, while not forgetting the value of a well told story. This is the first book I have read by Kingsolver but it won’t be the last.

Available to Purchase

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. booksaremyfavouriteandbest
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:22:08

    Make The Poisonwood Bible the next Kingsolver you read – amazing.



  2. parrish lantern
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:25:55

    An author I’ve not yet read, but mean to & I’ve heard good things about this one.



  3. Dianne
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:27:23

    I was just about to say the same – The Poisonwood Bible remains one of my top reads of all time. Thanks for another excellent review, Shelleyrae, I think I’ll be loading this one onto the Kindle next.



  4. Lisa Walker
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 16:34:19

    Thanks for that review, I’ll hunt that one down, I love Barbara Kingsolver, and climate change – so this is for me!



  5. Jennifer
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 21:33:54

    I was going to suggest The Poisonwood Bible as well, I see a few people have beat me to it. I liked Flight Behavior as well. I found it dragged in a few spots but over all it was a good read. It doesn’t even touch Poisonwood though 🙂



  6. Cynthia ☮ ❤ ❀
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 11:07:54

    Great review! It makes me want to put all my other reading aside. Thanks!



  7. RebeccaScaglione
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 12:14:31

    I 100% agree with the consensus of The Poisonwood Bible! You MUST choose that as your next BK read! Honestly, it is one of my favorite books of all time.



  8. Mystica
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 14:25:26

    I’ve only read Prodigal Summer- it was also about nature conservation and protection of the environment. A very moving read that book. this sounds something similar.



  9. Leeswammes
    Nov 05, 2012 @ 19:40:37

    I have yet to read this book, probably next week or the week after. Your review makes it seem a bit more of an environmental-political book than I was expecting. Sounds less interesting than I thought. But I read the first few chapters and that seemed really good. We’ll see…

    That Poisonwood Bible, I can’t remember very much about it at all (and I’m a Kingsolver fan). I’d go for Prodigal Summer, if I were you. 🙂



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