There was a point at which I seemed to see nothing but talk about and reviews of this book, and I was intrigued, particularly by its setting in the swamps of North Carolina. But I also saw there was a murder mystery element, which worried me, so I persuaded Matthew to read it first. He read it on audiobook (more on that in the review) and was raving about it, and shall we say “strongly encouraged” me to get a copy. So I did, and there came a space and I read it. And I think I loved it slightly less than he did, but we had a good discussion on it.

I saved a few reviews of it to read but if you reviewed it, do put a link in the comments. The reviewers I follow were quite mixed on it!

Delia Owens – “Where the Crawdads Sing”

(24 March 2020)

An accomplished first novel set in the marshlands of North Carolina (not even a small-town coming-of-age novel, more a tiny-town-coming-of-age novel!) where in one of the two converging timelines, young Kya sees all her family gradually leave and basically raises herself, her only friends Tate, a local boy who loves the marsh as much as she does, and Jumpin’, the older African American man who runs a small general store and, along with his wife, provides quiet background support (this sums up the novel’s approaches in favour of nature and integration). Kya comes into some contact with her local peers, mostly to her disadvantage, including Chase Andrews who, following the outsider versus star quarterback trope, shows some interest in her, so our suspicions are immediately raised when in the present day of the novel (1969), he’s found dead in the marsh. While Kya’s been educating herself and becoming an accomplished naturalist, all the town sees is the outcast ‘Marsh Girl’ – will she have enough allies when she needs them?

I found the book a bit clumsily written, needing some colons or semi colons where a new sentence started awkwardly. And the dialect is sometimes written out and sometimes left to the reader to imagine – I personally don’t mind dialect written semi-phonetically, although some people do. Interestingly, neither of these main issues for me were, of course, issues for Matthew, whose audiobook narrator smoothed them away! There’s also some fairly trite poetry that I skimmed over by a local poet – although its quality does get called out as weak by Tate, which I liked. There is some other poetry, Masefield and Dickinson, when Kya is learning about the power of the written world, and that little bit was enough, even though I realise the other was there for a reason.

I liked the sense of place a lot, and the history of the settlement of the marsh and how exactly Kya works to claim her patch legally. I also liked that she earns most of the improvements to her life herself, from bartering for food to keep alive in the early days to making improvements to her cabin (however, I did wonder how she knew to want various particular things if she’d never experienced them – had she read about bathtubs?). I also loved the careful observations of the marsh and its creatures and then the comparisons of the people of the town with the ways of the wildlife, remembering that nature has no good or evil, only actions to observe.

So nicely done and a good first novel, a good and engaging read but not the best book in the world ever. I can think of at least two authors who could have done this better, but then they’re Larry McMurtry and Barbara Kingsolver, so that’s not panning it by any means!

I’ve been making my Pile for 20 Books of Summer 2020 and will be sharing that at the weekend. How exciting! And I don’t think I shared these two new incomings (I’ve managed not to buy anything for over a week now, although had a session supporting books on Unbound (that doesn’t count, right?)

These two beauties are by Ayisha Malik, who wrote “This Green and Pleasant Land” which I read through NetGalley and loved last year. “Sofia Khan is Not Obliged” is a romantic comedy about a woman who’s given up dating until her boss asks her to write about the world of Muslim dating, and in “The Other Half of Happiness” Sofia appears to be married (spoiler! but we still get to find out how!) and dealing with the situation there. I am really looking forward to reading these!