Tuesday 15 November 2022

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is the author's first foray into fiction writing. Astonishing to have such a huge success on your first attempt, although I gather Owens has written several non-fiction travel type books and I think that shows. Anyway, the book.

The story opens with the discovery of a body at the bottom of a local watch-tower. It's Chase Andrews, the son of a local wealthy family. Has he fallen from the tower accidently or was he pushed? It's not long before people have decided that The Marsh Girl killed him.

Catherine Clark, otherwise known as Kya, is the youngest of six children who live with their parents in the marshlands of coastal North Carolina. The parents' marriage is an abusive one, both physical violence and mental is inflicted on the mother and often on the children as well. To the point where eventually the mother walks out. The older children have already gone, leaving two with the father, Kya and her older brother, Jodie. Before long he hops it too and Kya is left alone with her alcoholic, abusive father. She quickly learns how to keep out of his way using the marsh as her hiding place.

Then one day he is gone too. Kya, aged nine or ten, is left alone. The authorities make a half-hearted attempt to get her to school but the girl is too clever for them. And thus begins Kya's life, living alone in the marshes, surviving by selling shell-fish for money for necessities, relying on help from the black population of the local village. To the white inhabitants she's known as The Marsh Girl, dirty, tainted, a child to keep your own children well away from.

Two men become a major part of Kya's life. Tate, the son of a widower fisherman and Chase Andrews from a wealthy family. Tate teaches Kya to read and shares the wonders of the marsh wildlife with her. They're both experts but it's really only Tate who will be able to make the most of this. Chase is another case altogether and comes into her life as Tate is leaving it. Kya has no idea of his reputation in the nearby town, cut off as she is from civilisation, but he is the one who will have the most impact on her future life in ways she cannot even imagine.

So, a hugely hyped book from three or four years ago. My daughter lent it to me otherwise I probably would not have bothered unless I'd spotted it in the library. First I should say that I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, if I could've given it 3.5 then I probably would have done. It's was immensely readable, the setting was gorgeous, we've driven across that area so I had some idea of what it's like. I mean 'really' I can see exactly why so many people loved this book... although there are plenty on Goodreads who don't I notice. 

CAUTION - SPOILERS! (I mean it!)

Once I got into the book I found it compulsive reading even though the story was driving me a bit crazy. I wanted to slap the men in it and then had to keep reminding myself that this was set mainly in the 1950s and 60s when attitudes were very different. Although thinking about it, perhaps things have not changed that much in that department. But the main thing I found so unbelievable was how the children's mother could walk out and leave two vulnerable children with a monster. Given how much she clearly loved them (Kya has some lovely memories of family times together) would she do that? And then just write one letter, surely knowing the father would destroy it, and then no more attempts at contact? I just could not buy that at all and it rather spoilt the book for me. 

My heart bled for Kya, a girl whom everyone left and she knew it. Whether she could've helped herself a bit more by not being so reclusive is open to debate. Lots of it. It's easy to see why she was permanently frightened of people though. Her vulnerability leaps off the page at the reader and when she's accused of murdering Chase Andrews it seems like persecuting this woman has become a spectator sport with local people. It feels shameful and is.

The story is told by hopping back and forth in years. I did find that slightly distracting having to constantly remind myself how old Kya was in that year, although sometimes we were told. I'm not at all keen on courtroom dramas so did not enjoy that long section towards the end. Hence the 3.5 intention on Goodreads. I will not say that I did not enjoy the book because it's not true. The setting, the concentration on local flora and fauna, the descriptions of the marshes, were all superb. I just couldn't buy some of the plot... the mother's behaviour, Tate's behaviour, the manner in which Kya was accused of murder on very circumstancial evidence. Too much of the book was questionable... for 'me' anyway. Your mileage may vary as they say and I hope it does. It's a good book, just for me, not a 'great' one. 


Margot Kinberg said...

That's the thing, isn't it, Cath? If the plot isn't believable, it's hard to stay invested in the story. Even if one really likes or feels for the characters, those gaps in credibility can really take away from the book. Still, I'm glad you enjoyed the writing style.

Sue in Suffolk said...

Good story - Over hyped, was my decision after finally getting round to reading it this year.

Cath said...

Margot: It was quite clear the mother adored her kids and I simply could not buy her abandoning them like that. There was an explanation but it was mealy-mouthed in my opinion and went nowhere to explaining her behaviour. A 'gap in credibility' is a good way to describe it. I'm fairly easy when it comes to plot holes and often do not even notice them, but a glaring inconsistency like that: nope.

Cath said...

Sue: Yes, definitely a good story but also yes, 'over-hyped'. Might be interesting to see the film though.

Jeane said...

I read this author's nonfiction books long before this one- they're about times she spent in Africa studying wildlife with her husband- and I have to say I much prefer her nature writing. I was surprised to find she'd written fiction, but I did like it. Except that I found it a bit unbelievable how quickly Kya learned book skills, really.

TracyK said...

I read your review down to the warning about spoilers. Since at this point I probably won't read it, maybe I should just read that part to see if it would help me decide if I want to read it or not.

I may look for an inexpensive copy at the book sale next year, and then give it a try.

CLM said...

I thought it was well worth reading and a lot of the plot inconsistencies aren't as obvious until you finish (well, maybe only if you read it in a day as I did). You didn't mention the aspect I found most unconvincing - that no busybody would have persuaded the authorities to capture the girl and put her in foster care. Maybe it would have been difficult but not impossible. I am not big on outdoorsy books and, as you say, there are other things about the plot that bothered me but I still enjoyed it.

Cath said...

Jeane: I really want to read one of her African wildlife books. I have a feeling those would be much more to my taste. Although I really didn't 'dislike' Crawdads I suspect her non-fiction would be more my thing. She's a wonderful writer though.

Cath said...

Tracy: I'm so glad my 'spoilers' tag worked and you stopped reading there. On balance I think the book is worth reading. Not for the mystery element but for the glory of the wonderful setting and depiction of a way of life. Looking for a cheap copy at a book sale sounds like a good plan to me.

Cath said...

Constance: The author stressed how good Kya was at hiding from visitors and I get that. But I really do not believe that she would've been left like that by the authorities, eventually someone would've come to collect her to take her into care. Like you I found that unconvincing. I want to mention the twist at the end but don't want to spoil it for others. Did you see that coming? I considered it but decided it wasn't so... so was still surprised 'was' so. I enjoyed it too and am actually really glad to have read it. Not least because I now have an entry for North Carolina for my US States challenge.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

After reading your really well thought through review, I can see how you justifiably found a few 'holes' in the storyline, however, I really do have to read this one for myself, as I am so intrigued, and I do enjoy descriptive narrative.

The book I am reading is set in WWII Manchester, England and that one features abusive men, one who is handy with his fists and the other who is mentally coercive and controlling. I was appalled that when mental abuse turned into an all-out beating and hospitalisation, both the medical staff, the police and the judge (the woman decided to have her husband prosecuted), took the attitude:

"That's all right, Sister," said the doctor. Circumstances and all that. Mrs Naylor, I am aware of how you came by your injuries. Rest assured; I've already had words with Mr Naylor. We can't have behaviour of this sort. One expects a certain amount of it from the lower orders, but it's not acceptable in your husband's rank in life. Carrying on like the great unwashed won't be tolerated, and I jolly well told him so. Colette stared from her good eye in disbelief. Carrying on like the great unwashed - was that how wife-battering was viewed?"

"She has certain friends whom she met through her former work with the railways. Two of them removed Mrs Naylor from the ward. No attempt was made to have her properly discharged. It was a ridiculous act perpetrated by a pair of foolish girls with no knowledge or understanding of the married state. Could it be that her so-called friends prevailed upon Mrs Naylor to press charges against her husband?"

So, I am not surprised about the attitude of Kya's father and brothers.

Also, it wasn't until D started the job he is doing now that I realised just how many mothers actually walk away from their children and want nothing to do with them. Or how many older children are left looking after younger siblings, often under the radar of the Social Services - and we are talking about England in 2022!!

Sorry! Rant over, your review has sold this one to me as a 'must read' and I'm pleased that you filled another space on you US States challenge map - you can't have many left to fill now :)

Cathy said...

Here's where I have to admit that I'm going to be lazy as concerns this book. I've had it for a couple of years and never gotten around to reading it. Then I saw that the film based on the book was on Netflix-- and that the film followed the book closely. I watched the film a couple of nights ago and had the same reactions to the same plot holes as you did.

Why did I say I'm going to be lazy? After having seen the film, I'm not going to bother reading the book!

Lark said...

Your views of this book are very close to what my sister thought of it; there were things she thought the author did really well, but she didn't in the end she just didn't love the book. And then there were things about the story line and situation that she really didn't like at all. Which is why I've never read this one; I just have a feeling I wouldn't love it either.

Cath said...

Yvonne: Thank you so much for your thoughtful and relevant comments and the quotes from the book you're reading. My goodness, it beggars belief the things they went along with back then because it was accepted as part and parcel of the 'married state'. And I quite believe it happened too. And to say it was something that only belonged in the lower orders!! Wow. You rant away. The trouble is it's such a huge subject to get a grip on and although things are better handled in that dept. now they're much worse in others... mental health for instance.

Yes, I think I still have plenty of states to fill in my challenge but I'm in no hurry, I think I've been at it for over ten years now. :-)

Cath said...

Cathy: I'm all for being lazy... but really you're making a good judgement on the proper use of your time. ;-) I didn't know the film was on Netflix, so thanks for the tip-off.

Cath said...

Lark: Interesting that your sister and I agree on the book. I think that one good thing about book reviews by people whose tastes echo your own a lot is that it enables you to make quite an accurate decision about whether or not you would like it yourself. So I'm really glad to be of service. LOL!