17 March 2009

March's Book You May Have Missed: The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)

I'm not entirely sure The Poisonwood Bible hits the point of this feature bang-on considering it's an international bestseller. However, that label often works to the detriment of a novel; the number of social elitists who didn't read Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code because "everybody else was" is ridiculous. Thus, I am going to assume many people missed this book and announce March's Book You May Have Missed!

Barbara Kingsolver now seems to be far more concerned with growing organic vegetables, but before this foray into green goodness she churned out a few quality novels, the best by far being The Poisonwood Bible. It tells the story of a Baptist Preacher who takes his wife and four daughters to the Congo as missionaries in 1959. Those of you with any knowledge of African history will know that this was NOT the best time to go act as missionaries; the country was on the brink of overthrowing the shackles of Belgian Colonisation and embracing independence and not really in the mood to hear about the fire and brimstone that awaited them.

Thus we have inevitable conflict as the mad-as-a-meataxe Nathan Price will not allow his family to return to America as he feels he has not fulfilled his duty in saving as many souls as possible in the small village whose inhabitants have little or no interest in him or his faith .

Narrated by his four daughters and wife Orleanna the novel took me a few chapters to get into because of the different voices of the girls. It annoys me NO END when a story is narrated by young children. Unless you are as brilliant as Scout Finch I do NOT want to read about your take on the world if you are under the age of ten. Fortunately, once I got into the story and started to really enjoy hating the father the narration ceased to grate on me.

The build-up of suspense and tension in this ridiculous situation the family finds themselves in is quite magnificent and Orleanna Price's descent into depression is tenderly wrought. The character studies are for the most part thoughtful and subtle, although the character of the daughter Adah was a little overdone. She is a cripple AND a genius AND intentionally mute AND prefers to write and read backwards AND morbid and dark AND a philosopher AND an atheist. Or maybe she's not overdone but her sisters are not formed as thoroughly and thus seem a little 2-D in comparison. Either way, Adah doesn't fit as well into the story.
But it's a good novel, easy to read yet still creatively and intelligently delivered. I want to go read more on the Congo now, which demonstrates how much the story piqued my interest in Congolese history. Either that or it awakened in me an irresistable urge to become a baptist missionary and I want to see what my chances are of getting a mass following once I'm over there.

Rating: 7/10.
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