Imagine being seven years old, a child and being abandoned by family, happiness and hope. How would you go on from there? How would you survive? How would you overcome being an orphan of circumstance? If that is not frightening enough, then add to that being left to fend by your own in a marsh in North Carolina; a nasty hell hole. Who could survive in such a place? Could a young girl?
Yes, Kya, the protagonist did. She survived and flourished by finding beauty in the marsh and went on to become a local legend known as the ‘Marsh Girl’.
This book is Delia Owens’ debut fiction novel. ‘Where the Crawdads sing’ refers to a place far in the bush where the critters still behave like critters i.e., where nature and its denizens are untouched by humanity and are free. Out there, in the marsh, far removed from the crowds, amid the serenity of the marsh, even the crawdads (freshwater crayfish) sing.
This book is as much a story of Kya growing up and her struggles with humanity, as it is about the marsh. Delia Owens brings the marsh alive for the reader. With every ripple of the water, every rip of the tide, every song of the wind, every sway of the Palmetto frond; she places you in the setting with the protagonist. You find yourself living Kya’s life. You laugh at the innocent delight she finds in non-human friends. Your heart contracts when she bemoans the betrayal of those she has loved. You expel a frustrated breath, gnashing your teeth when life’s travails unleash their mammoth and continuous onslaught on her. Yes, such is the beauty of the book. It takes you through the entire gamut of emotions that make up Kya.
For me, the most alluring feature of this book was the language. It is poetic to the point of being sinful. I kid you not! The sun does not set in the book, nay; it slinks into the embrace of the night. The tide does not froth, no; it whispers at the feet. Just beautiful.
The plot – The book is about the struggles Kya faces growing up alone in the marsh. Now loneliness makes for a strange bedfellow, does it not? Many succumb to it. But others, like Kya, find their comfort in it. They flourish by finding themselves, their identity in it. Shunning society that ostracizes them, they develop friendships with elements of nature. So, the Gulls speak to them, the wind guides, the tides transport and life starts to revolve around imaginary scenarios. And yet, those are not far removed from reality. To people like Kya loneliness becomes the warm duvet that they wrap not to ward off the cold but to ward off associations and relationships.
But, does that help? Does not the human heart, even if it has only known isolation, yearn for companionship? Kya seeks that, in her own way. That is where the shy brush of first love, the bold stroke of sexual awakening and the heart wrenching wallop of betrayal comes in. Delia Owens makes you live all that with Kya right up to the point where you revel in Kya’s triumph and success. Just brilliant!
The book opens to a regular ‘Who done it’ murder mystery. The story of that runs parallel to Kya’s progress over the years. It is only in the penultimate part of the book that the mystery is solved. And, that was my only disconnect with the book. The tone of the book is the last part is hurried which I found to be in stark contrast to the rest of it. The end appears like a rushed ‘wrap up’ to a gruelling movie shoot. My contention is that after you read 60% of the book at a certain pace, sinking into the language, the last part kind of jars you. I wanted more. I wanted a more complete ending. Even though the revelation of the poet who’s poems Kya is partial to reciting and the unmasking of the murder culprit are handled well, the end still left me wanting more. I felt like in this book I travelled in a circle only to reach the end and not complete the loop.
But, I do recommend this book.
If you are a poet at heart, if you love to read by the lamplight, all snuggled in bed, holding a steaming cuppa, then this book is for you. If you start it, stick with it and finish it. It changes the way a story should be told.
Buy the book here: