Review: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I’ve wanted to read Where The Crawdads Sing for a while now, but it most recently became a time-sensitive read when I learned that its film adaptation’s coming out soon. I rarely read the more popular books because I cave and end up watching the movies, which spoil them for me. But, for once I get to have an upper hand and full knowledge of the details that movies often miss out on. This book has many elements to it. It’s a saga of multiple timelines and perspectives- a murder mystery alongside a coming-of-age story. It’s set in the small sea town of Barkley Cove on the North Carolina coast from the 1950s onwards. However, our protagonist, Catherine “Kya” Clark lives in the adjacent swamplands, alone in a shack in a secluded area of the marsh where she has survived for years, with nature as her only companion. She rarely ventures into town and is in fact afraid to do so as the townspeople paint her as some sort of creature- savage and uncultured. This prejudice against the ‘Marsh Girl’ bubbles over when the beloved quarterback of Barkley Cove- Chase Andrews is murdered and all fingers point to Kya.

The book is of course about much more than that. The case progresses in 1969, clues are revealed and secrets are uncovered as we read about Kya, from the time she’s six and is abandoned by everyone she holds dear. She learns to fend for herself, getting better at making a life for herself day by day. This is really where the aspect of nature comes along. The marsh and all it has to offer; green lagoons, oak forests, squiggling sand crabs, palmettos, surprisingly friendly seagulls and a coast navigable by creeks and estuaries are the very essences of this book and Kya’s soul. The chapters are incredibly rich in imagery and the scenes Delia Owens paints with her words are one of the most compelling parts of the book. The marsh is both intriguing and terrifying. Kya’s loneliness is never at the forefront. She doesn’t fully express it either because the marsh is her home and always has something to offer her. It is her life and its explorations encompass her day. Nature is used to foreshadow, to set the scene. The author has very cleverly used her descriptions to portray the sight of the murder, or Kya’s favourite spots or turning points in the plot.

Although, I think where Owens excels in imagery she lacks in characterization. Kya as a protagonist felt bland. Her interactions with others and conversations were more fast-moving and exciting as compared to her individual chapters. Yes, her observations of the marsh and reliance on nature were great but that was all there was to her. Each to his own, but I like characters that express more and have a personality that dictates what happens next. Similarly, Kya had little to no character development. It seemed like times changed, her life changed yet she stayed the same but more mature and practical

Different themes stand out to different readers. To me, the theme of literature and reading is one. To reiterate, this book awakened this sort of thirst for writing in me. It made me want to express and describe everything around me in detail. The author couples nature-related poems with her fantastic imagery. Books and poetry become one of Kya’s connections to the outside world. Where words fail, often poetry is quoted to communicate what she’s going through. I don’t think Kya’s love for reading is talked about enough. She and books are such an unlikely pair but they’re kind of the perfect solace for someone that longs to learn but is restricted by her circumstances. They also give her the knowledge that sets her apart as the insightful and perceptive woman whom others are surprised to find. I’m reminded of a quote from the book that’s famous, “I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”

Coming to the ending, don’t worry no spoilers. I wasn’t satisfied with it. The book as a whole seemed to move along much better and built the plot up very well. However, towards the end, it fizzled out and didn’t amount to a “great reveal” as it is in murder mysteries. The ending was unexpected but not unbelievable. Some found certain aspects like the actual carrying out of the murder and Kya’s survival alone in the marsh unrealistic or impossible, but I would say that that’s the beauty of fiction. As readers, we often complain that real life is never as sudden or galvanising as life in fiction. It’s a similar situation where the author has let her imagination run wild and in doing so, highlighted little parts of wildlife and nature we fail to notice. So, don’t try to make sense of it just sit back and enjoy!

Final thoughts~ Where The Crawdads Sing doesn’t settle on any one as its genre. It’s a coming-of-age, a romance, a period piece and a mystery, however you choose to look at it. A description of what it truly means to be lonely and an indirect ode to nature, its many components we haven’t yet discovered. I guess this book is similar in that sense. You could spend hours picking out metaphors and bits of symbolism and discover some new underlying themes. Delia Owens is a retired wildlife scientist, and she interestingly delves into certain ways of life or functioning of the marsh and relates it to human behaviour. A review described how the ‘case studies’ in her book are both human and natural- and I think that perfectly describes the balance she maintains between her professional knowledge and the insights she wishes to leave us with.

“Faces change with life’s toll, but eyes remain a window to what was..”

~Delia Owens, Where The Crawdads Sing.

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