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Flight Behaviour
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on 16 August 2017
I feel like BK has a great idea and is capable of solid writing - but gets too attached to her message and then becomes sentimental and verbose, which is odd when she considers herself a scientist. It didn't help that I wasn't keen on the protagonist.

Mirroring the development of Dellarobia (not helped by being portrayed as a "poor white girl" named with such a pretentious title) with the struggles of the butterflies was a good choice. She sounded knowledgeable on the scientific details of the butterflies and climate change ( too much so at times). There was humour to lighten the load ("like a beach vacation minus the beach, and the vacation"). Some characters were portrayed with a range of redeeming features. The picture of a small, farming community struggling with paying the basic bills was harsh and believable.

But ....descriptions were over-long especially where the author wants to share her own thoughts . Too much read like a one-sided lecture. And there was too much sentimentality in the huge changes of D over the course of the book. Pretty quickly she seemed a shallow and unlikeable character, willing to leave her children and run off with a bloke she barely knew. Next minute, she is a competent, intelligent, loving mother who deserves sympathy for her poor start in life and unfortunate fall into an early marriage and her children's "racked sobs that wrenched her will for living". One minute they are dirt-poor ("as if shopping for previously-chewed meals", the next she is sharing the lamb Hester has just given them with Ovid and his wife - assuming they want to spend their time with her family and considering they had been parted for quite a while that is dubious - and then "crammed the leftovers into plastic boxes wedged into the refrigerator" as food is over-flowing! This narrator living in this limited community uses language that is not credible: "wherever she looked she saw their aggregations on the dwindling emergent places ............" For me, this kind of nonsense devalues what the story is meant to be sharing. Likewise, Hester is nasty: but she offers an "excuse" for her frustrations which sits weakly. Preston unsurprisingly shows an interest in science: he is 5 - there is no reason to believe he will follow this through and actually become a "scientist"! He was far too single-minded and serious at 5.

Having read the Lacuna and felt it turgid, despite a lot of good content, I think this is the style of BK. She needs to have a firmer editor!
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VINE VOICEon 6 June 2014
Climate change is one of the most urgent issues facing the planet. But the problem for the novelist wanting to write about this subject is how to do it without being too worthy and hectoring. Barbara Kingsolver gets round this by setting her story on a sheep farm in the poor and deeply religious Bible Belt. Most of its people are highly suspicious of scientists and are happy to believe that all disturbances in weather patterns are just part of God’s plan.

Dellarobia Turnbow is trapped in a dull marriage and is mother to two small children. She is bright but was unable to take advantage of educational opportunities when she was at school. Her whole life changes when she goes up a mountain on their farm and discovers a sea of orange fire – this turns out to be millions of Monarch butterflies who have had their migration pattern upset and are now off course. Dellarobia gains (unwanted) social media fame as people come to see this awesome sight. One visitor is Ovid Byron, an African American etymologist who stays on the Turnbow’s farm with a small research team.

This is a turning point in Dellarobia’s life as she learns more and more about the butterflies and how the environment can be fatally affected by outside events.
Flight Behaviour is a stunning novel. The plot unfolds beautifully and the characters are incredibly well drawn. There is Della’s bitter mother-in-law Hester, her lummox of a husband Cub, her loyal best friend Dovey and the generous spirited church minister Bobby. Barbara Kingsolver has a brilliant eye for detail and Dellarobia exhibits a sharp wit throughout the book. When an environmental campaigner asks Dellarobia to sign a pledge to reduce her energy use she expresses puzzlement. She has no computer to leave on stand-by, she can rarely afford red meat, she can’t afford to drive far, she buys secondhand clothes and she has never been on a plane.
Just as we find out about the life cycle of butterflies, we see Dellarobia on her own cycle of turning into something admirable. The title “Flight Behaviour” could refer to the butterflies or to our heroine’s own life choices.

I hope I haven’t made this sound too didactic. It is a perceptive book which is very funny in parts.
One of the best books I have read all year – highly recommended.
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on 12 May 2016
I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver. She writes big, baggy books, but I find them compulsively readable, and this is no exception. A young discontented mother on a failing farm in the Appalachians stumbles across millions of Monarch butterflies that, it turns out, are at risk of species extinction. In a way, nothing else much happens for 600 pages. She meets butterfly tourists and butterfly scientists. She learns about climate change, about her family and community, about herself and her husband and children. She decides what to do. What gripped me was the day to day detail of her life and her thoughts, engrossing and convincing, so effortlessly real that I was sorry to run out of more pages to read. Bravo.
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on 9 December 2016
Absolutely fantastic, engaging, real - just what a novel should be. It puts both social injustice and climate change into a believable and non-preachy context which is a joy to read - there were a few moments when I laughed out loud - but which also makes you think very much about the state of society and the world we have got ourselves into. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the shocks of the last 12 months and who wants to get a glimpse of a possible and positive future.
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on 3 April 2013
I am a long-time fan of Barbara Kingsolver's work, so had high expectations for this new novel. For me, Flight Behaviour got off to a slightly disappointing start. I found the protaganist Dellarobia quite unlikeable and I wasn't able to get a very good sense of place and setting in the first few chapters. Maybe for those more familiar with American geography and culture it would be easier. However the descriptive writing was as beautiful as always for a Kingsolver novel, and the relationships and emotional life of the characters felt so real it was heartbreaking.

I did also find the narrative a bit preachy in places (both on climate change and poverty/inequality), and some of the dialogue was a little clunky in places for this reason. I think some of this could have been left for the reader to make his/her own deductions, rather than everything being spelled out laboriously.

Four stars as for all its flaws this was beautifully and skillfully written, and overall a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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on 21 January 2013
Monarch butterflies overwinter in southern Appalachia rather than Mexico. Their arrival enables Dellarobia to work through her life problems - she has married young following an unplanned pregnancy which has ended in miscarriage, and now has a husband to whom she is not perfectly well matched and two small children. And as the novel works its way onward we learn more about Dellarobia's in-laws and the community of which she is apart - and about the climate change that has driven the change in the behaviour of the butterflies.

This was very impressive and a very unusual and memorable one: thought-provoking about deep issues on climate change (why some people believe in it and some don't), insightful about what makes people tick (in a community that will be totally alien to most readers but which is brought vividly alive), and about human tragedy (in small doses), ordinary human unhappiness (in larger measure), and the positive things in life - the ways in which Dellarobia does value her in-laws (to a degree), her husband (whose take on life is also very vividly given to us) and her children - and the natural world.
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on 11 July 2013
I found the story a bit slow to get going (will she ever get up that mountain?) but once into it, and having met and started to get to know the characters, it was from then on in, highly enjoyable. top quality writing and story-telling, such a strong sense of place you feel you know it and the people too. And a strong eco- message for everyone. Nothing is more important in todays world of over-population and resource depletion/pollution/climate change than that EVERYONE acts NOW to literally save our planet. 5 mins on you tube will show you that quite literally - the human race could be extinct in just 50 years if we don't change our ways and rapidly reduce all consumption of consumer goods, and cease or reduce livestock farming which is the primary cause of climate change. Enjoy the book - then get eco.
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on 6 May 2013
Barbara Kingsolver has restored my faith in the notion that scientists can be artists too. I was recommended this book by a friend on the basis that it had some science in it, and I am a scientist so.....this happens a lot and I don't have the heart to point out that I don't want to think about work in my leisure time! I found the novel quite slow to start, but this is possibly because I had just finished reading Instructions for a Heatwave that same day, which has a rip-roaring pace. Once I got into the story proper however, I couldn't put it down. The descriptions of climate change and the desolation that is resulting from it were genuinely distressing. I came away from this story with a need to understand more about this subject. Aside from the scientific considerations, the journey of Dellarobia from a desperate wife seeking release to an independent woman taking control of her life was very enjoyable and although I did feel very sorry for Cub, I appreciated the resolution of their story. I felt the ending was a little abrupt but perhaps that just reflects how absorbed I was in the novel. I would recommend this novel and found it much more enjoyable than The Poisonwood Bible.
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on 8 September 2013
It starts slowly - and the opening chapter finds you wondering why you should care about this woman and her apparently trivial life but you read on, intrigued about why what she sees matters.

By the end of the book you are desperate to meet Delarobia and be her friend; you want to wrap your arms around her community, small-town and all; you care about the world in a way that no documentary has ever made you feel. It is such a powerful book and gets its 'message' across more powerfully than Oryx & Crake by Margaret Attwood - because the characters and the situation seem utterly real.

However, I do believe that only people who have known poverty will actually understand Delarobia and her community - those most likely to read this book won't ever know the real agony of having no choices, being unable to make plans, forever being grateful to others. Although the book has far wider themes than families in poverty it is only through empathy with those people that you reach the real meanings.

Definitely one for the book club - provided the members are real people and not just pseudo academics.
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on 19 July 2013
Barbara Kingsolver is an excellent writer - she can make me read books about things that don't appeal. Flight Behaviour is just such a book - it is centred on Dellarobia Turnbow a young mother trapped by poverty and lack of education in a grim life on an East Tennessee farm deep in the bible belt, when Monarch butterflies suddenly appear her world turns upside down. Kingsolver draws you in beautifully through well drawn characters and some fabulous turns of phrase. She also manages to build a grim unsympathetic character and then in a few words completely change your view. It is a book that has many themes - the effect of poverty (in cash terms and educationally), the precarious nature of life in the goldilocks zone, the media and even perceptions of bible belt republicans.
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