Flight Behaviour

Flight Behaviour (2)Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behaviour started off for me with a sense of déjà vu. There is something about the young character walking up into the forest, the sense that it may be a life changing moment, that evoked a memory of her earlier novel Prodigal Summer. There is something similar between the character of Dellarobia, a young mother of two children, and Deanna, the older wildlife biologist living in the forest, keeping an eye on the threatened coyote species.

Rereading the first line of my review of Prodigal Summer, the connection is obvious:

Animal nature, human nature, bugs and insects, forest life, their dependence and interdependence, habits good and bad and how the balance is affected when death, destruction or any kind of change is introduced; how species adapt, how human beings cope – or don’t – all of this we find in the juxtaposition of creatures assembled from the thoughtful poetic pen of Barbara Kingsolver in Prodigal Summer.

caterpillar-emergingHer latest story tracks another of nature’s creatures whose pattern of migration has changed, attracting scientists, environmentalists and believers. The events of this winter period coincide with Dellarobia’s realisation of what lies beneath her inclination to engage in behaviour likely to destroy her family. She is given the opportunity to work with the scientists and comes to understand that there is an alternative path to changing her life, one that will cause less suffering than the impulsive gesture she was intent on in the first pages.

Flight Behaviour also reminded me a little of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, they are both works of literary scientific fiction, stories that follow a particular ‘what if’ scenario. Kingsolver starts with the facts and then creates a hypothetical scenario, which science is trying to prove is related to climate change.

Just as history is sometimes more appealing to absorb through a well-researched historical novel, so too are certain scientific suppositions. And then there are the reactions of the population and how they sort themselves into like-minded categories, less about the science and more about community, faith, belonging and the short-term survival of families whose basic living may be at odds with the conservation of another of nature’s species.

Kingsolver looks at what motivates humanity to take positions against each other, the tendency to seek only those positions that support their belief system or corporate sponsor, regardless of evidence to the contrary, the challenges of the outsider and the blind acceptance of those who accept their lot without question, living in the present on account of mistakes they’ve made in the past.

coyote runningAn enjoyable novel, though slow going for me, there was something about Prodigal Summer that was urgent and compelling, while this book meandered; comparing the experience of these two books is a little like a reflection of the speed of the creatures in their midst.

Flight Behaviour has been short listed in the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013, Barbara Kingsolver was a recent winner of the prize in 2010 for her excellent novel The Lacuna, one of the first novels reviewed here on Word by Word.

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45 thoughts on “Flight Behaviour

  1. On June 5th we will know who the winner is…. Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013. Are you planning to read the next 3 books I saw on your link?

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    • I would like to, but I have a pile of books which are those I am choosing to read, as opposed to those lists of books which are chosen by others and we read to keep up with the reading public. I think 3 is a pretty good show, but if I have the chance to read another I will, though unlikely to read Hilary Mantel as I haven’t read Wolf Hall and not ready to embark on that yet. Plan on reading them when the trilogy is complete.

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      • Put it on your list of summer reads, I had it on the bookshelf for 10 years gathering dust before a poet told me I would enjoy it after mentioning another book I loved to her. I was surprised to be recommended a book that had lingered on the shelf unread for so long and it was one of those unexpected joys.

        I also enjoyed The Lacuna, though went into it knowing that many had found the first 50 pages difficult to endure, this is unlike anything else she has written, but an interesting political context, the McCarthy era, Frida Kahlo, Trotsky etc if you enjoy that kind of thing. Check out my reviews anyway.

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      • I’m one of the readers who found the first 50 pages enough to put it back on my shelf, where it still is. I will check out your review and will put it on my list of summer reading. And I’ll let you know what I think. Thanks!!

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  2. I haven’t read The Lacuna, put off by my daughter who gave up on it, but like you The Prodigal Summer was one those marvellous unexpected joys for me, I bought it in a charity shop knowing nothing about Barbara Kingsolver and was mesmerised by the urgency of her writing and the clarity of the world she created. I still have a soft spot of coyotes.
    I’m sure I’ll read this one sometime but I’m not racing out to get it

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    • I was lucky enough to spot this one at the library, like you, I don’t feel compelled to read her immediately, but I do know that I’ll read all her books, and like how diverse her subjects can be. I do think you should give The Lacuna go, but know that the first 50 pages might be challenging.

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  3. Oh I so loved Prodigal Summer I remember it with great affection and it is a long time since I read it. I must get Flight Behaviour at some point and get around to finally reading The Lacuna – the only two novels of Barbara Kingsolver I haven’t yet read.

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    • Prodigal Summer was such an unexpected joy for me too, I couldn’t believe that it had been in my possession for so long without me knowing that it was likely to be such a wonderful read, I had not heard anything about it, I think because a long time I only ever heard that The Poisonwood Bible was the book she was destined to write. I haven’t read animals Dreams yet or her essays High Tide in Tuscon.

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  4. I loved The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna but don’t think I have read Prodigal Summer. If I have it was a long time ago as I don’t remember it – maybe I should start with that, thanks

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  5. Amazing Claire we must be on the same wavelength. My copy of FlightBehaviour just arrived in the mail this morning. I just opened my mail and found your well-written and well analyzed post waiting for me. I’m very interested in this novel, even though I have only read one book by her, The Poisonwood Bible. From your post I’m getting this isn’t the one and maybe a little repetitious. Correct me if I’m wrong. Do you think she’ll win the Women’s Prize?

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  6. Nice review, Claire! By an interesting coincidence, I also finished reading ‘Flight Behavior’ yesterday 🙂 I too couldn’t resist comparing it with ‘Prodigal Summer’ and like you, I liked ‘Prodigal Summer’ more. I liked the depiction of family scenes and smalltown life in ‘Flight Behavior’ very much. But I felt that the ‘wildlife’ scenes were more beautiful in ‘Prodigal Summer’. Thanks for this wonderful review. I am hoping to read your review of ‘Prodigal Summer’ soon.

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    • Nice coincidence Vishy 🙂 Just popped over to read your review and you make some interesting points in comparison to why we are so drawn into the saving of the coyote versus the plight of the creatures in Flight Behaviour.

      It could be that in Prodigal Summer, the main character is the biologist and she is passionate and fiercely protective of her environment and the creatures within it, whereas here Dellarobia represents a somewhat naive, but interested local, she is neither for nor against and neither does Dr Ovid really come into his own except for that one passionate speech.

      I thought the opposition and denial could have been stronger as well, in terms of the characters, it was inferred rather than acted out, a little passive perhaps. Thanks for reading all the Kingsolver reviews, I think she must be the only author I have three books read on here!

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      • I totally agree with you on the comparison of Deanna with Dellarobia and Ovid. I found Ovid to be an interesting character but quite detached from nature, while Deanna was very passionate in ‘Prodigal Summer’ about nature and wild life. I think I should read ‘Prodigal Summer’ again one of these days. Have you read ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ also?

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  7. ‘Prodigal Summer’ was my first Kingsolver and I was completely bowled over. I also love ‘The Bean Trees’. I’ve had less luck with her non-fiction, which preaches too hard for me. However, this is sitting on my shelf as the next read but two and I’m hoping it will give me as much pleasure as her earlier works.

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    • I have her essays High Tide in Tuscon on my shelf and I have never opened it. I’m not into overt preachiness, but I have to say I’m curious to read it. I am sure there are gems within, taken with a grain of salt 🙂

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  8. The only one of her books I’ve read in its entirety was “The Poisonwood Bible” which I enjoyed, but I’m not sure I’d want to tackle again. I keep seeing this book popping up on my recommended lists on Amazon, Goodreads, and B&N so maybe I’ll have to give it a try. Would you recommend “Flight Behavior” over “Prodigal Summer” or should I start at the beginning and go from there?

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    • I have enjoyed reading Flight Behaviour, it’s as good as her other work, but Prodigal Summer was a more memorable read and the characters more sympathetic.

      The Lacuna is entirely different, more of an artistic and political theme rather than the biological, environmental, small community aspect. Check out my reviews of the other two and see which one appeals.

      I think The Posionwood Bible, though excellent, is also a more challenging read than any of the three discussed here.

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  9. It’s quite a different kind of book than the others on the list, isn’t it? I mean, just from reading your review and knowing its genre. I know Kingsolver is highly acclaimed nature writer, but I admit I haven’t read any of her work. Just wondering… have you read Kathleen Jamie’s Findings? As a birder, I think I’ll soon get to that one.

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    • Yes, Kingsolver is in a league of her own and this one true to her scientific and environmental roots which she manages to get across with good storytelling. You might enjoy her earlier book Prodigal Summer.

      Yes, I loved Kathleen Jamie’s Findings, which I reviewed earlier this year when I was on a non-fiction reading binge. I am looking forward to reading Sightlines as well, but no rush, she’s the kind of writer one needs on the shelf to help get through a long winter, her and Tove Jansson.

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  10. I also thought this book was a bit like Prodigal Summer (which I thought was the better one). I did enjoy it a lot, as I did State of Wonder (which I read twice, and still loved).

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    • All depends on how much time you want to spend with one book. It was a slow read for me, unlike Prodigal Summer but I’m not one to abandon – although I did put Hilary Mantel’s French epic to one side after 400 pages and don’t know when I will ever get back to read the last 400.

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      • Jo, we tend to enjoy the same books – I did like Flight Behaviour a lot. Maybe try a little more? In the end, if it’s not your book, it’s not worth continuing but I loved it.

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    • Yes, it’s kind of a pity to make comparisons, but often unavoidable especially when one book reminds us of another. I enjoyed The Bean Trees too, I read her smaller books before launching into The Poisonwood Bible, I still have a few more to read including her essays High Tide in Tuscon.

      Thanks for stopping by Meg and for your very kind tweet.

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