Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On the Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood BibleThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had to give it five stars even if I sort of wanted to give it four. Five for effort. Five for subject. Five for imagery, language, research, how it touched me emotionally, and shallowly enough - five for the gorgeous cover and binding.

But the structure bothered me. The different narrators - a tricky tool. The reader will almost inevitably prefer some to others, and then an inborn annoyance with the way the book plays out is formed. I eventually learned to appreciate the variety of perspectives it provided, but I also continued to feel annoyed whenever the narrator changed. Furthermore, I question the necessity. We get that Rachel is foolish and shallow. We get that Ruth May is naïve (though her age alone makes me wonder if underscoring this wasn't redundant). We get that Adah is weird, and we get that Leah is our troubled heroine. I think I preferred the mother's perspective, which of course makes it a shame that this only surfaced a handful of times throughout the book.

Also, even if I gradually got to accept the structure and the constantly shifting narrators, I felt that the author eventually got tired of it as well. Towards the end of the book, I wondered if I had reached the end maybe 50 times. Not because what still came wasn't interesting - it was, and this is why I wouldn't dare to suggest the book was under-edited since I believe any editor would have a tough time excluding any of the tails (and details) from the last 100 pages due to their relevance for the subject - but the main story seemed so closed, so finished. Over and over again I expected "The End", but all I got was "The next chapter". I wonder how wise this was, at the same time as I too - like the imaginary editor - couldn't say where to stop and what to cut.

In the end, these things bothered me enough to keep me from reading the book at top speed (though my gazillion years of finishing it also has to do with reasons unconnected to the book). They bothered me enough to make me focus slightly less on what you should focus on when finishing this book: the terrible, terrible historical facts that form the backdrop of the plot. But in the end they didn't bother me enough to take away that last star.

Five for making me want to give it five stars, despite reservations.

View all my reviews


welcome to my world of poetry said...

A good review , I had never heard of this before so was interested what you wrote,
I'm opleased you gave it 5 despite reservations.

Have a good day.

Not Hannah said...

Kingsolver is one of my favorites, because she writes about the South and Appalachia (whence I come) BUT I actually didn't like this one. I think it's because of my expectations of place, plus the POV-shifting made me dizzy. But I'm glad you enjoyed it. If you ever want to get a glimpse of the land that's in my heart, you should definitely check out her Prodigal Summer.

Hart Johnson said...

Ha! I actually liked the perspective change (Adah is my favorite)--then again, you may have noticed I have some books that do this... I think this one influenced me that way. I totally think that is a preference thing.

As for Prodigal Summer-I've read that, too, and loved it up until the end. I felt like it never finished. It just sort of petered out.

Not Hannah said...

I felt like PS sort of finished with a cute, chick-litty bow, which marred it a bit for me. But Kingsolver nailed the superstitious, nature-bound, loving nature of Appalachian folks, so I luff it anyway! :)

Anonymous said...

I came to BarbKingsolver via The Bean Trees, which I could not put down, but, having been simultaneously reading :( The Saving Graces PGaffney, I was thilled by the African unknowable twists -POVs, MCs- of PB. And while I thought I wasn't going to like it, I would have given it multiple fives in the end, too. Great crit Cruella.

ps glad you're home safe & sound btw

Kelly said...

It's been years since I read one of her books. Perhaps I'll get around to this one someday.

Marjorie said...

My question is would I like it?

Hart Johnson said...

Marjorie- I think you would, as the underlying theme of religion and the errors of translation seem like they would resonate to you--the 'God of small potatoes' thing, in particular.

LTM said...

I read it back in college and loved loved loved it. Now that I'm a mother of two daughters, I'm afraid to read it again, although my memory's hazy and I really want to... :D

Your review's helping, though~ <3

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