Saturday 3 June 2023

Barbara Kingsolver in Bath


Dubious flower arranging skills with some tulips received as a gift after the littlest boy rescued a neighbour's dog from the street after he had escaped. There was chocolate too but I haven't seen any of that. 

The grass in the back garden (unmown since April) is gradually attracting pollinators as the flowers appear. Also beloved of bees are the raspberry flowers, foxgloves and chives. In fact, bumble bees are living in the nest box now, which is lovely. I'm glad I spotted them though as I generally shin up a ladder and clear the nest box out in July by reaching up and in and taking out old nesting material. Imagine my surprise...

I had the most amazing evening last week when I went to see Barbara Kingsolver in Bath. I was partway through Demon Copperhead, her latest novel, when I happened to find out that she would be in the UK. By some miracle, three of the dates were not far from me. 

She is my joint favourite author (along with Philip Pullman) and what I've read so far of Demon Copperhead is just stunning. 

She did a brilliant interview, talking about how she wanted to tell the story of the opioid crisis in Appalachia but she didn't know how to approach it until she stayed at the house in Broadstairs where Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield. She sat down at his desk and pretty much heard his voice saying, 'You tell the child's story'. So she did.

I believe that some of the background is that it suited certain industries (timber, coal and tobacco) to keep the population in Appalachia uneducated, providing a constant supply of workers. The area is incredibly poor and I think the most badly affected by the opioid crisis. I read later that health insurance there really only buys a pill most of the time. Doctors were given backhanders by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma to prescribe OxyContin to patients, an opioid that is very addictive and that has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths as well as utter misery for many more. I've been reading about it since and it is utterly horrific. American friends no doubt know a lot more about it.

From what I've read of the novel so far, Barbara deals expertly with the subject, which might otherwise have been difficult to read about. I'll let you know what I think when I've finished it. But definitely a story that needed to be told. It was a complete privilege to hear her speak as well. Hurray for coming to the UK! 

I sat near a librarian who told me that she reads extensively and that this is the best book she has read in ten years. It has already won a Pulitzer prize and has been shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, to be announced on 14 June. I'm really hoping it wins.

Lovely picture of Barbara in the UK here.

Hope all is well at your end. CJ xx