Flight Behaviour

Issue section: 
(374)

Barbara Kingsolver

A young woman living on a farm in Tennessee, struggling to make ends meet and raise her family, finds herself on the frontline of the battle against climate change when an endangered species lands in her backyard. Flight Behaviour raises the issues of climate change denial, the complicated relationship between science and government policy, and the impact of climate change on the lives of ordinary people.

But the point of the story is to explore the contradiction between the sense that we are living in a world that is out of our control, and the reality that so many of the problems that people struggle with day to day are man made and can be challenged.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a young, intelligent woman who wrestles with the superstitious and traditional attitudes of her community. But she is also suspicious of the educated rich scientists from the city who see her and her family as backward hicks, and is frustrated at the gulf of understanding between her reality and theirs. To add insult to injury, the town is beset by well-meaning climate campaigners who have no real understanding of their lives and yet argue that the way to prevent climate change is for "privileged" Americans to reduce their carbon footprint. When told, for example, that she should eat less red meat, Dellarobia responds that her family is trying desperately to eat more red meat, because "you don't get very far on mac and cheese", and the charge "Fly less" is meaningless to a woman who has never left the state or been on a plane in her life.

Kingsolver presents America as a country divided by class, and paralysed in the face of climate change, the global economic crisis and the waning but tenacious authority of church and traditional family values. But Flight Behaviour is also an engaging story about a woman who feels trapped by her humdrum life as a wife and mother, and frustrated at the lost opportunities for something different. It's an ambitious novel as it tries to explore so many issues and questions through the experience of one woman, but on the whole does it well, if at times there is too much going on. It does not offer much hope for the future though, as it presents such a thorough picture of the obstacles in the way of preventing climate change - so be warned: it is not necessarily a happily ever after story!

Flight Behaviour is published by Faber and Faber, £18.99