There was one line in the novel that for me represented all that is powerful and wonderful in this book. It was: ‘Sand keeps secrets better than mud.’ In this book, the marshlands that Kya inhabits are as much a character as she is. Offering both sanctuary and solace, the marsh becomes the mother that Kya yearns for after being abandoned by her own mother, left to the care of a father who was incapable of providing Kya with the security or happiness that a parent should.
There is much to love in this book. A carefully crafted mystery, a courtroom drama, all wound around a building compassion for the central character of the book, Kya. The writing is exquisite, detailed, and betrays the author’s extensive knowledge of the natural world she writes about. She is a gifted writer of the natural world. Under the pen of Owens, the marsh, lives, breathes, sings, soars.
That said, the book is not without flaws. Largely told from the viewpoint of Kya, the book sometimes veers into that of the omniscient narrator – where the the narrative spell is broken by this all knowing voice telling the reader of those things of which Kya had no knowledge – the reasons why her mother might have fled the family home, and the underlying trauma suffered by her father that goes someway to providing the setting for his violence and unreliability. I felt that we as the reader should not have been given this information – it should have come to us naturally – when Kya learnt what she could of them, rather than being given to us. To me, it felt as though I was given power over Kya, having information about her life that she did not. And for me, it did not help the narrative overall.
Yet the exploration of loneliness, isolation, and the desire to be part of something resonates through the pages of the book. The description of Kya’s childhood borders on painful, and as she matures and seeks companionship, womanhood – what it is to be female, and to be powerless, starts to emerge as a theme in the novel, with Kya, as she is hurt, and hurt again seeks ever greater refuge in the world around her, with her truth that: ‘Nature seemed the only stone that would not slip midstream’. It is the natural world that is the heart of this novel, often used to devastating effect. From the vixen that abandons her babies, to the insects that eat their mates, each of Kya’s observations both a revelation and a foreshadowing of what is to come.
This novel is a marvel. I almost long to go to that place where the crawdads sing.
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