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Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Climate change, no, it’s not a dirty word; it’s a very real and obvious plight. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

It’s that ‘thing’ that makes our winters wetter and milder, forcing trees to rot and fruit to blacken; it’s that thing that causes freak snow flurries in April and thirty degree heat -waves in October. We only have to look at our fruit to know that something is not quite right. Did you notice this summer how blackberries didn’t make an appearance until almost August and were short-lived? Or how fruit doesn’t seem to ripen in the bowl anymore, instead it turns from hard to harder or to an unpalatable mush in the blink of an eye. The question is, are you a contributor to this decay or are you doing your part in slowing the process down? Kingsolver, one of our most socially conscious authors, in the true Kingsolver way uses didactic methods to broach this prickly subject by using all the scientific power she is capable of yielding. It helps that she has a background in science of course.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a young discontented housewife who has decided her fate, and that is to pursue a love affair. As she climbs the mountain to meet the young man who she wishes to have an affair with, she unknowingly stumbles upon a sight that will change her life for ever. What she sees she can not in fact quite distinguish as vanity prevails, forcing her to leave her glasses at home and in turn leaving her pretty much blind to the world around her. It is this concept of distorted vision or the act of opting for blindness which plays a pinnacle role in the understanding of the forces at work in this quiet Appalachian town. Dellarobia happens upon a swathe of butterflies in the treetops, a habitual environment to which they do not belong. This is a message or the writing on the wall if you will, that things are far from right.

Although not religious, her thoughts automatically fall upon fables from the bible in order to understand the event taking place before her, “Trees turned to fire, a burning bush. Moses came to mind, and Ezekiel.” This is where Kingsolver merges her scientific background with her poetic one and in doing so, creates yet another masterpiece that one can not put down, regardless of the size of the book. In this Appalachian tale of climate change, Kingsolver delves into portraying two very interesting perspectives over a phenomenon which has gripped Feathertown. It’s an event which everyone is trying to interpret; one perspective is that of science and the other is of faith. 

As the reader delves deeper into the life of this butterfly which has changed its entire internal map by choosing to rest in an unstable environment by fleeing Mexico, the reader is also thrust further into the life of Dellarobia and the farming community that surrounds her. A charismatic scientist who goes by the name of Byron opens Dellarobia’s eyes and world in more ways than one, to which she in turn attempts to do also within her community. The farmers of Feathertown find themselves suffering in the hands of unseasonably wet weather to which they’ve put down to ‘god’s way’. The very people who endure the pains of environmental change are the ones who refuse to believe in it. Dellarobia’s youngest child’s vision is not all too different from many of the adult’s in this fable, as she writes on p112 “unseen things did not exist” which makes the reader question their own relationship to the environment.

In this polemic piece, Kingsolver sets everything alight and illuminates all aspects of life. Everything from the mighty to the miniscule is given a chance to shine through and let itself be known. Kingsolver is a natural story teller and this is further evidence of that very fact.


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