Thursday 27 February 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens #USfiction

When one sets out to read a book, you enter into a contract of sorts with the author. You agree to be apart of their world and to go along for the ride. As I've discussed before, we all have our own criteria by which we judge a book and whether we will pick it up off the shelf, or not. Or whether we will look inside it, or not. Or whether we will read beyond the first page, or not.

We all have expectations that we want a new book to meet. We all have moods and daily lives that dictate what might appeal at any certain time in our life, or not. When you find a book that grabs you from page one and you agree to go with the author all the way to the end, it's a truly magical moment. I usually know from page one, if this will happen or not.

Not all the books I read are Literature with a capital L.
I enjoy lighter reads, comfort reads and pot-boilers at times. The Jonathan Coe trilogy I've been reading recently are lightly, humorously written. They are flawed, but utterly, utterly engaging. I have agreed to go along with Coe's premise and we have a lot of fun together. I love the early Liane Moriarty books for the same reason. I am prepared to be entertained by her, and entertain she does.

Both these authors write with a warmth and affection that sucks me in from the start.
But I will not suspend believability for anyone. I can live with obvious. I can live with tropes and stereotypes. And I can live with working out what will happen early on, simply to enjoy the 'I knew it! I told you so' at the end. But I have to believe. It has to be plausible.

For such a major, best selling book, I managed to hear very little about Where The Crawdads Sing. Readers have merely gushed about their feelings about the book - all glowing - without revealing any spoilers. They all insist I should read this book, that I will love it, it's the best story they've read in a long, long time and they can't wait to see the movie version of it.

So when my book club nominated Where The Crawdads Sings as our March book, I was happy enough to go along with the hype. I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.

I knew I was in trouble from the first page though.

I wasn't seduced by the writing or the story. Well-worn tropes and stereotypes abounded and by the 30% mark I was getting angry at the lack of believability. I seriously thought about stopping, but I didn't finish my last book club book either. Guilt set in and I started skim reading.

For my own amusement, I decided to make predictions (**below**) about what I think will happen.

**My guess is that Kya will be hassled by Chase as they become young adults, she will fall in love with Tate, but there will be issues about whether she deserves to be loved or not. Chase will take advantage of her somehow, until she snaps and kills him. She has obviously done a good job of covering it up, so I am curious to find out how the bumbling police officers work it out.**

So why does Where the Crawdads Sing resonate with so many readers?

I can see that the nature writing might be lovely in places. I googled the Great Dismal Swamp, and I can see that it is (now) quite beautiful. It's history as a hideout for runaway slaves, outcasts and hermits is fascinating stuff. I'd love to watch a wildlife/social history documentary about the area.

Great Dismal Swamp, North Carolina

Murder mystery is a genre that has wide appeal, as is the overcoming poverty, hardship and ghastly childhood trope. Books about prejudice, social injustice, domestic violence and war veteran PTSD can enrage, upset and move us. They can open our eyes and hearts to those living a life different to our own. However, romanticised versions of 'white trash done good', like this one, do little to advance that cause. The nature/nurture debate is also one that can attract a lot of interest, but I still insist on believability for this to be effective as a trope. The Reese Witherspoon book club nod obviously boosted book sales too.

**At the 60% mark. If Kya keeps quoting Amanda Hamilton poems, I may have to fling my book across the room! And enough with all the nature similes about animals killing their mate after sex - we get it. We get it!**

**90% mark. Really! She wrote a book!! Three books!! I flung MY book across the room!
Kya's chat with Jodie about isolation, and the consolations of nature, might have been moving, but the Jodie scar memory, just before he turned up out of the blue, was so clunky and so convenient, I flung my book again! And don't get me started on the totally unbelievable provincial court room drama!**

**100% At least Tate agreed with me about how awful the Amanda Hamilton poems were! I had my satisfying 'I knew it' moment. I'm just surprised it took everyone else so long to work it out. And why isn't there an online outrage about the protagonist getting away with pre-meditated murder?**

I have now found another reviewer (Lit & Leisure) who failed to be captured by this book so now I don't feel so alone in my stand.

I usually shy away from negative reviews, because I rarely read a book these days that I don't want to read. Thanks to my day job, I have a wide array of book choices that can be picked up and put down without any financial sacrifice. If I don't like a book, I simply stop reading and find a book I do like. Where the Crawdads Sing is a book that wouldn't have passed my usual 'first page' test. But since I felt compelled to read this for book club, I persisted.

Not every book can suit every reader.

I certainly don't want to trash someone else's favourite book of all time, but I do feel a little disheartened that such an ordinary book can gain so much attention. Maybe in these difficult times, though, an easy to read, romantic murder mystery is the escapism ticket that many readers need.

I'm curious to hear why some of my book club members loved this book so much, and why some are saying it's the best book they've read in a long time. I remember being just as confused and bemused by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey years ago. It's great that these books can get so many people reading again, I just wish they could be ones that were better written!


  1. I found another not-positive review by bug bug bug but don't think I saved it. My husband is reading it at the moment on audiobook and raving about it, he's checking it's OK for me (with the murder and all) but finds it like Barbara Kingsolver. He does tend to read quite a lot of sci fi etc but does also read literature, or has done, so I trust his judgement, but it's been interesting to read this!

    1. Thanks Liz, that was enough info for me to find bug bug bug's blog and her review. She had the same problems I did.
      For the record, I also couldn't read past the first page of any Kingsolver book either, which definitely puts me in another minority group.

      I can see how this would make a good movie though. In the right hands, the beautiful swamp combined with all the dramatic tension oozes cinematic potential.

    2. And now I've read it I didn't dislike it as much as you did however yes tropes abounding and I wasn't convinced by the writing style, either. I did like the nature stuff, which redeemed it for me, but it was in no way Barbara Kingsolver (to be fair, she doesn't really lecture like BK can tend to, but she certainly doesn't write as well!).

  2. I haven’t read this yet, though I hope to at some point.
    I’m finding that I’m veering away from serious themed, realistic fiction lately because the global state of affairs is too depressing right now, and I want to escape it . I’m sure there are many who feel the same.

    1. I’m reading a lovely book about clouds at the moment & a gentle Japanese book about a piano tuner, for that exact same reason!

      I’ll be curious to hear what you think about WTCS when you get to it.

    2. I totally understand what you mean, I'm having a hard time with heavy reads right now. That being said, I started reading Les Miserables and I'm seeing parallels with what's happening in the American prison system. So depressing. I have to break up my reading with much lighter books.

    3. Les Mis is an extraordinary read, but certainly not a happy one!

      I've got a week or so off work thanks to some major renovations that we have to have thanks to the extreme storm a couple of weeks ago. My aim is finish all the half read book by my bed (before starting anything new). But it's getting hard now. I'm basically down to the non-fiction reads, which I like to dip in and out as my mood dictates and my chapter-a-day read and I don't know what I want to read next!

  3. I agree 100% with your review of this book, I cannot understand the love and the raves. I did like the descriptions of the swamp but everything else was just trite and utterly unbelievable. Why is it some books just capture the spotlights? Lilac Girls, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Wild, A Million Little Pieces -- how do these books get so popular? Some of them are just utter crap.

    1. Ahhh I remember having to read The Memory Keeper's Daughter for my previous book club. It was truly awful and universally castigated by my reading group.

  4. I'm one of those gushers. I loved the book and the poetry and didn't figure out the mystery. I was taken by the descriptions of the marsh and want to visit one now. I also did a bit of research on the author and was amazed to learn that this was her first novel.

    1. I had never heard of the Great Dismal Swamp before & I’m not sure realistically, that I will ever get there to see it in real life, but it is now on my USA travel wishlist.


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