This novel popped up on my radar thanks to two people: my mum and Reese Witherspoon. My mum is an avid follower of Hello Sunshine, Witherspoon’s bookclub, and just an avid reader in general. And, when Where the Crawdads Sing was reviewed by Reese in September 2018, my mum added this hardback onto her Christmas list.
After my mum devoured all 368 pages, she loaned it to me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I let this bookgather dust on my shelves for well over a year.
Then, three weeks ago, I plucked it down from my bookshelf like it was Wheezy in Toy Story 2. Instead of putting up for sale in the yard, I read the first page. This simple action is one I regret not taking sooner.
Where the Crawdads Sing takes place in a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. The novel centres around the character of Kya, referred to by the locals as the Marsh Girl. She is isolated and distanced by the snobbery of a town who are quick to blame her for the murder of the handsome and popular Chase Andrews. Kya, however, isn’t what the town folk perceive, she’s intelligent, sensitive, interesting and has survived years alone in the marsh.
The opening few chapters of the novel flit between the past and the present. As readers, we grow with Kya and watch her through the lens of a guardian angel. We share her first memories, her every triumph and every heartache. Kya is the underdog outsider that every reader should cheer for.
This brings me onto one of the novel’s prominent themes – social pariahs and by extension outside judgement. Kya is ostracised by a town who doesn’t understand her, her family, or her knowledge of themarsh. There are some kind town folk who take pity on the young Kya and soon start to champion our young protagonist. These characters are Kya’s support network and are often few and far between.
However, other characters aren’t as open minded, they judge Kya because they don’t understand her, her home and her love of nature. But as characters minds slowly open, Kya lets more and more people into her world. Despite her increasing popularity, she’s constantly judged and profiled for the murder that takes place in the novel’s opening pages. Not only is Kya a well fleshed out character, her relationships are too, which makes this work of fiction became instantly believable.
Kya isn’t the novel’s only triumph, the setting of the novel is superbly articulated as well. Owens’ description of the marsh is exquisite. Whenever I read Kya wandering through the marsh and observing it’s wildlife I truly felt like I was there with her too. In the same beat, this immersion isn’t clunky or overburdened in the slightest.
Perhaps, this description is made more realistic thanks to Owens’ own childhood. As a young girl, she explored nearby Oak Forests where she grew up and has already co-authored three award-winning books about her life as a wildlife scientist.
This chimed with an Elizabeth Gilbert interview that my mind often whirls back to, which I’m about to paraphrase: ‘fiction is the best place to write about your own experiences.’
Part of me believes Owens put snippets of her own memories of exploring the outside world into this novel. It could be these early experiences that help to drive the novel’s authenticity. Equally, I don’t think anovel has any more weight if the author writes through personal experience. I just think the parallels between Gilbert’s musings and Owens’ own work were striking.
This is a fast-paced whodunit. I didn’t want it to end and found myself savouring the final pages because I didn’t want to leave Kya and her world. For me, this novel is just some damn good storytelling. And, abook I’d recommend to everyone.
Thanks for reading & as ever I’ll speak to you soon
Disclaimer: This review first appeared in my Newsletter the book report. Sign up here to read my next book review before anyone else.