Do you ever not read a book because it’s so very hyped and everyone is talking about it and you’re afraid you’ll be disappointed? Well, stupidly, that was me with Where the Crawdads Sing. I resisted its allure, the reviews that told me to enjoy it, that declared it wondrous. As a consequence, I’m very late to the praise party – praise, I might add, that is so richly deserved and to which I’m about to add.
This is a superb novel that carries such emotional heft. It is filled with heart-aching loveliness but also threats of billowing darkness, that it’s only now, over a week after I finished it, I feel I can step back enough to review it.
The tale commences in the late 60s with a suspicious death. It then rolls back twenty or so years and introduces us to the young, sassy yet quiet Kya Clark, a child who dwells on the edges of a town in the wetlands of the American south. She lives in poverty, in a makeshift house, apart from and yet also among those existing on the margins. Known as the “marsh-girl”, rumours about her and her ever-diminishing family abound in town, rumours that have no basis in fact, but are part of what ensure people like Kya, her family, and those who don’t fit the (white) mould are kept at arm’s length and othered. There are exceptions to how she and those who eke out a living in these wetlands are treated – there are a few who are able to see beyond the wild tales and stories of peculiarity and recognise the possibility and beauty in a child who rejects human contact – except on her terms.
The novel segues between the investigation into the death in the late 60s and Kya’s life as she matures, mostly in solitude and yet, never really lonely. At one with her natural environment, Kya’s searing intelligence, burgeoning knowledge and endless curiosity guide her year after year beyond her once narrow boundaries and into the extraordinary landscape she knows and loves and into the lives of two very different men.
I don’t want to say too much more except this book tugs at the heart like no other I’ve read in a while. I ached while I read, cried, smiled, felt my flesh crawl, my soul open. At one time, I held my breath for so long, it was as if I forgot to breathe. It was an extraordinary reading experience which I now regret is over. I sort of wish I was still to discover this magnificent book; had the painful beauty of its story, of its words and the emotions it stirred, the images it evoked, to look forward to.
As it is, I will pass on the wonderful impact of this tale and hope that the next reader to pick it up feels about it the way I did. Sensational, moving and unexpected in every regard.