I’ve been meaning to read Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver since it was shortlisted for the Orange prize this year and I finally managed to get round to reading it when I took a copy on holiday with me. I was very impressed by the novel. I thought it was intelligent, thoughtful and Kingsolver explores issues like the environment, class and relationships in a way which really makes you consider the real life implications.
I loved the main character, Dellarobia, right from the beginning and found her very easy to sympathise with even though I didn’t feel like I had much in common. Her daily frustrations and moments of happiness made her very relatable and I think this is what really helped to bring the issues raised in the novel closer to home. The novel definitely made me think about the actual effect of global warming and our attitudes towards it. When the scientist Ovid asked Dellarobia to consider the things that she took to be certain in the future, such as her children’s adolescence and growth to adulthood, it really put into perspective how we assume things will always stay the same just because we can’t possibly imagine the alternative. This was paralleled in the survival of the butterflies, as Ovid made it clear that it was much more probable that the butterflies would die rather than manage to survive the winter up on the mountain and that this meant almost extinction of the species.
I think the novel really mirrored global opinion on climate change and how many of us believe and accept that it is occurring but that we don’t want to accept that it will actually affect us in our lifetimes – it seems an impossible and intangible thing because we don’t know what the worst consequences could be and we have not experienced anything like it before. I felt that Dellarobia and her life in Appalachia created the perfect setting to change something that seems distant and almost unreal into something that I could connect with. The book really highlighted how people choose to pretend it isn’t really happening and think that they can’t do anything about it (myself included).
Alongside the exploration of climate change through the storyline with the butterflies, the novel commented on class and Dellarobia’s relationships with her family. I thought Dellarobia’s confusion about her sense of belonging was explored really well. How she referred to her husband’s family as ‘rednecks’ showed how she judged them and never really felt like she belonged to the family unit. However at the same time she chastised herself for thinking she was superior (‘who was she?’) and felt embarrassed whilst talking to the scientists when they first arrived because of her house and her clothes and how she had never been to college, so she didn’t feel like she belonged with them either. At times it seemed like she was almost asked to choose between the two sides and she was always caught in the middle. Learning about her life throughout the novel, such as how she had spent 11 years married to Cub despite how they were never really right for each other, conveyed how her social position created a kind of immobility that prevented her from being able to change and live the life she had dreamed for herself.
Kingsolver also linked the issues of climate change and social class really well, showing how it can be hard to concern yourself with global issues when sometimes daily life can be a struggle that takes up all of your time and energy. This was highlighted with Dellarobia’s encounter with the activist, Leighton Atkins, up on the mountain when he tried to tell her about the pledge that he was getting people to agree to. So many of his pledges for trying to reduce carbon emissions were just inapplicable to Dellarobia’s life because of her lack of disposable income, such as flying less and trying to always buy second-hand, so that Atkins was made to look almost ridiculous for suggesting them. It showed that even though it is important for everyone to take responsibility for accepting the effects of global warming, it is much more complicated than just raising awareness and making everyone sign a pledge. I thought this conveyed how such a huge issue on a global scale can become too big for an individual to deal with and how all the stresses of living – paying the mortgage, raising children, keeping a marriage from falling apart – can push these issues to the back of your mind until they land on your very doorstep.
This novel was one of the most thought-provoking that I’ve read in a long time. I felt I needed to form a discussion group just to talk about everything it made me think about! Yet the prose was beautifully written as well and it was a joy to read.