‘Flight Behaviour’ by Barbara Kingsolver tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow who climbs up a hillside in southern Appalachia on her way to meet her lover and stumbles across what appears to be a lake of orange fire. As we learn later, this is the arrival of millions of monarch butterflies which have been diverted from their usual destination of Mexico by the effects of climate change. A research team arrives to investigate but Dellarobia’s involvement in their work soon comes into conflict with all other aspects of her life, particularly her husband’s family who want to clear the land for logging.
As Kingsolver explains in the author’s note at the end of the book, the plight of monarch butterflies in the Mexican mountain town of Angangueo is a true story while the appearance of the butterflies in rural Tennessee is entirely fictional. However, Kingsolver’s story is convincingly told. The reader won’t feel blinded by the science of climate change but it is also impossible to come away unaffected by it after reading the novel. Just like with The Poisonwood Bible, I felt that Kingsolver had a very clear message yet still managed to add extra nuances to the story to prevent it from becoming too simplistic and predictable.
This is not just a pretty story about some colourful insects though as several other epic themes are also covered in the story including Dellarobia’s marriage problems and her family’s struggles with poverty. Dellarobia is a character as memorable and distinct as her name and all of the other characters are well drawn out too with multiple layers. I really liked the humour in Kingsolver’s character observations and descriptive imagery which got me hooked into the story straight away. The scenery is always brilliantly painted whether it’s the majestic descriptions of the butterflies or Dellarobia’s depressing trips to the bargain basement stores in small-town Tennessee.
I am really pleased to see that ‘Flight Behaviour’ has made it onto the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. It is a beautifully written novel which I enjoyed just as much as ‘The Poisonwood Bible’. I will definitely be adding ‘The Lacuna’ to my reading list.