Barbara Kingsolver – author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna – has weaved another beautiful narrative with her latest book Flight Behaviour.
With it she tackles a subject as weighty as in any of her volumes – this time, climate change. Set in a small God-fearing community of the Appalachian mountains, the story follows a discontented wife-and-mother-of-two as she struggles against monotony, poverty and frustration.
"The sun slipped out by another degree, passing its warmth across the land, and the mountain seemed to explode with light. Brightness of a new intensity moved up the valley in a rippling wave, like the disturbed surface of a lake. Every bough glowed with an orange blaze."
It is when the protagonist discovers "trees turned to fire" that her life – and way of understanding the world – is altered. Those burning trees turn out to be a vast population of monarch butterflies, displaced by instability in ecosystems caused by changes in global temperatures. Kingsolver pushes the issue to the heart of an insular community and watches them tackle it with denial, ignorance and paranoia. And it sees a woman's life transformed from the foreseer of God's miracle, to an assistant scientist witnessing the devastation of a species. An eye-opener for characters and readers alike.
Kingsolver has a talent for keeping novel tightly focused on people in contained environments whilst all the time weaving in a bigger narrative – in this case, the threat of global climactic change – to gradually reveal that there are greater (and unstoppable) forces acting upon them.