Review of Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Books Paper Scissors, March 2020

 Chances are, this will soon be made into a big budget movie (allegedly already optioned by Reese Witherspoon).  It’s filled with all the crowd-pleasing elements : good looking young folk, pre-millenial racism, court scenes of good versus evil, a love story and an atmospheric setting. However, I realise that just by writing that reductive sentence I have belittled what is a really good novel, as so many of you recognised.

The author, now in her 70’s, grew up in Georgia, USA and is a retired zoologist. She spent much of her working life in Africa, in remote locations, studying animal behaviour. This is her first work of fiction. All of that reclusive experience and knowledge has created an empathy and reverence for the waters and shoreline of the North Carolina swamplands that is compelling and atmospheric, even magical by turns, in the descriptions. Even outside of the marsh, the NC dialogue and setting is strongly heard and realised. The constant parallels of animal mating rituals, with Kya’s own relationships, and the play out of the action in court, was a clever acknowledgement of the male/female power struggle.

Kya. She is a lesson in neglect and abandonment, which cannot fail to affect us emotionally. We all need to feel loved, in order to learn to love – and Kya’s only learnings come from her gulls and her insects, rarely another human. Hence the small kindnesses showed to her by Jumpin and Mabel, and Tate, are all the more affecting. And Chase? Yes, an opportunist, and yes taking advantage of her naivety, but did he genuinely care for her more than society allowed him to?

Did we all guess the ending? I think it was quite a clever plot twist and an unusual way to wrap up Kya’s life. Some of you liked the poetry elements, some liked the concept of the poetry but not the actual poetry, if that makes sense.

Whilst some have said the murder mystery element was a bit weak, and the likelihood of actually creating bestselling books unlikely, and it was all a bit #resiliencefiction (OK, I made that up) … but overall the widespread popularity of this book is fully justified.

Side note - A word I learned in researching this book? Ethology = the study of Animal Behaviour. Hands up who knew that already?

May 05, 2020 by Linda Murray