I could give you the big SPOILER ALERT warning but this isn’t really the kind of book which needs one as far as I can see. Although there is a definite plot it is not the most important part of the book – characters, ideas and descriptions are the main players here.
The story opens with our heroine (with the rather unusual name of Dellarobbia) walking up into the mountains behind her home with the aim of being unfaithful to her husband. Up in the hills, however, she sees what she believes to be a vision but which turns out to be millions of migrating monarch butterflies. The book itself is then partly about those butterflies and partly about how Dellarobbia’s life develops.
A large part of the story is centred around why the butterflies have arrived at this location – Tennessee being a long way from their usual overwintering site in Mexico – and it turns out that the bad guy in all this is the climate itself. I should nail my colours to the mast here and say that I am involved in environmental campaigning so this book is very much up my street. However, what I liked best was the fact that, firstly, the environmental message is done with a light touch and, secondly, that we learn about the issues along with Dellarobbia. Some authors seem to unable to resist lecturing the reader on whatever issue is key to their story – Barbara Kingsolver manages to restrain herself while still making us fully aware of the facts she needs to impart.
This book is beautifully written and yet doesn’t read like ‘great literature’. By which I mean it is accessible, with dialogue which sounds like real people – not characters in a book. We get the flavour of the character’s accents and dialects (Appalachian and Caribbean) but we can clearly understand them. And we like the characters! As in real life most people have their faults but also some redeeming features and we do really get to know them. Given the rather bleak environmental outlook of the book I think it is important that we get a particularly good understanding of the personalities of the children in the book. They are, hopefully, going to be part of the solution to the problems set up through this story.
If you enjoy good writing, have an interest in the environment or in character-led books this could be a good one for you.