Hello Reading Buddies! How is The Poisonwood Bible going for you? I only got around to starting it earlier this week and am about 200 pages in (the start of the Judges section). It’s not my first Kingsolver, but it is my first of her novels. A few years back I read and loved Animal Vegetable Miracle about Kingsolver’s year living locally.
The things I knew about The Poisonwood Bible going in were (a) that it was about missionaries in Africa, and (b) that it is one of Kingsolver’s better known books. I like not knowing much about a book when I start it, and this one is no exception. I like not having many preconceptions about a book before I read it.
What struck me most as I began reading The Poisonwood Bible was its narrative structure. It seems pretty complicated, really: sections, each (so far, at least) begun by the mother, Orleanna, looking back on her family’s time in the Congo, the day-to-day of which is then filled in by alternating accounts from her four daughters. All the perspectives are female, and I’ve yet to meet a male character who’s painted in a positive light. At the same time, there don’t seem to be any strong females, none that stand up and take the reigns of their lives away from the men.
I’m impressed by how well Kingsolver distinguishes the voices of the five women. That’s quite a feat, I think, to write five distinct female voices, especially when three of them are so close in age. I rarely have to look at the name on each chapter; I can tell by the vocabulary, the language, and the type of observations being made which girl is narrating. The constant switching between perspectives means Kingsolver can give us a fairly complete, if biased, picture of the Price family’s life: Rachel on the missing comforts, Leah on relationships (and especially her father) and facts, Adah on everything the rest of her family misses, and Ruth May on…well…all the miscellany that appeals to a young child. I find that Kingsolver’s youngest character often makes the sharpest observations, even if she herself may not yet understand the deeper meaning of what she’s observing.
One paragraph on page 62 (of my hardcover edition) in particular gave me the mental image of the Price girls that’s stuck with me. As described by Adah:
“What a landing party we were as we staled about, identically dressed in saddle oxfords, long-tailed shirts, and pastel cotton pants, but all so different. Leah went first as always, Goddess of the Hunt, her weasel-colored pixie haircut springing with energy, her muscles working together like parts of a clock. Then came the rest of us: Ruth May with pigtails flying behind her, hurrying mightily because she is youngest and believes the last shall be first. And then Rachel, our family’s own Queen of Sheba, blinking her white eyelashes, flicking her long whitish hair as if she were the palomino horse she once craved to own. Queen Rachel drifted along several paces behind, looking elsewhere. She was almost sixteen and above it all, yet still unwilling for us to find something good without her. Last of all came Adah the monster, Quasimodo, dragging her right side behind her left in her body’s permanent stepsong sing: left…behind, left…behind.”
I’m also interested by the slice of life in the Congo the Price family provides. It’s an area of the world I know little about, and though I know the Price children aren’t at all objective, still their observations are interesting to me.
I’m waiting for something to go horribly awry. The air of foreboding pervading the novel is heavy. I still have plenty of pages left in which things may come to a head, but I’ve no doubt they will!
If you’re reading or have read The Poisonwood Bible, feel free to share your thoughts and/or pose questions for other participants here. Please be careful to warn of spoilers in your comments or let people know where in the book you are. I’d also love to know if you’ve discussed the book on your blog so that I can link to your post in the wrap-up post, two weeks down the line.
Over to you!