Posts Tagged ‘Delia Owens’

Where the Crawdads Sing was my first read of 2021 – my book group’s choice for January, which we meet virtually to discuss tonight. It feels as if almost everyone has read this one already – it has certainly been hugely popular, and apart from a few naysayers generally well liked. It is a coming of age novel with a mystery at the heart of it, but it is also a lyrical exploration of the natural world and the relationship one woman has with it.

“…face it, a lot of times love doesn’t work out. Yet even when it fails, it connects you to others and, in the end, that is all you have, the connections.”

The setting is North Carolina in the 1950s and 60s, a small fishing community called Barkley Cove which nestles up against a wild marsh land. In 1969, the locals have spent years gossiping about and looking down on ‘the Marsh girl.’ Kya Clark has lived alone since childhood in a small cabin by the side of the lake, wild, barefoot, and suspicious of strangers. However, most of the locals have no idea who Kya really is. In 1969 Chase Andrews is found dead – laying beneath a fire tower, was he pushed or was did he fall? Murder is suspected and Kya as a misunderstood outsider immediately suspected by gossips who are quick to tell the sheriff what they think.

The novel moves back and forth in time – beginning with when Kya was just six – and her mother leaves the family. Kya watches anxiously for her return, but she does not – and finally one by one her older siblings leave, and Kya is alone with her hard drinking, volatile father. With only one day of schooling Kya manages to survive in the marsh that she loves so fiercely. Kya’s father teachers her how to handle a boat, fish and navigate the waterways, Kya teaches herself how to cook, recalling the things her mother used to do.

After a few years Kya’s father leaves and does not return, and Kya stays in the cabin and the marsh, communing with the gulls, fishing, shunning strangers and dodging the truant officer. The natural world is Kya’s playground, she is enchanted by everything around her, she has an affinity with the natural world, an intelligent and enquiring mind, despite not having any formal education.

“A great blue heron is the color of gray mist reflecting in blue water. And like mist, she can fade into the backdrop, all of her disappearing except the concentric circles of her lock-and-load eyes. She is a patient, solitary hunter, standing alone as long as it takes to snatch her prey. Or, eyeing her catch, she will stride forward one slow step at a time, like a predacious bridesmaid.”

Nearby lives Jumpin’ he and his wife Mable, who as black people in the early 1960s are on the outside of society themselves, they keep something of an eye on Kya. Jumpin’ buys mussels from her and Kya knows that they are people she can depend on if she needs, but mainly she is on her own. In her teens Kya finds new ways to survive her isolation, she meets the first of two young men from town, who are to have a big impact on her life. Her new friend offers to teach Kya to read.

“You can read, Kya. There will never be a time again when you can’t read.” “It ain’t just that.” She spoke almost in a whisper. “I wadn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.” He smiled. “That’s a very good sentence. Not all words hold that much.”

In the present, 1969, the investigation into how Chase Andrews died begins, the local law enforcement decide that they will have to talk to Kya. Finding her at home is a challenge, Kya is good at evading people she does not know, slipping off into the marsh to avoid them.

Over the years Kya learnt a lot about males and females by watching fireflies and other creatures. She was able to observe the rules of their world, how females were sometimes preyed upon by the male – and how mates attracted one another, and even how the female firefly would suddenly devour the male. As she gets older Kya’s interest in the marsh becomes more and more academic, she carefully catalogues the species she lives among – storing, labelling, and drawing the world around her with incredible precision.

One of the biggest themes of this novel is isolation and the effect it has. Kya’s life was changed forever when her mother left, in the end everyone left. She grew up alone, she had to teach herself how to live – she felt her isolation deeply, she never forgot the feeling of being left. She learnt early that people in the town looked down on her, that she wasn’t acceptable – she felt the sneers before she saw them, she spent years dodging well meaning adults who might put her in a foster home and make her go to school.

Now, with Chase Andrews dead, the town who have never understood Kya seek to point the finger. Kya’s life has been punctuated by people leaving her or letting her down – now their prejudices threaten her whole way of life.

I really enjoyed this novel, a beautifully written debut – which is really quite a page turner. I am looking forward to discussing it with my book group.

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