Where the Crawdads Sing: a review

Set in North Carolina in the marshlands beside a small fishing village, Where the Crawdads Sing is a stunning novel that upholds literary merit with mesmerising and finely crafted prose. The words on every page bring this setting to life with sharp focus and invite readers to step into this world author Delia Owens has created and reflected in 1960s America.

Once you start reading, you can’t help getting absorbed into the landscape. Without a doubt, this book is important, striking, and beautiful – and we were swept away.

So, what’s it about?

Abandoned as a child, six year old Kya quickly learns how to grow and adapt to living in the marsh alone. Without the stability and nurturing of a traditional family background – her father is around but for the most part absent – she finds comfort in the birds, the frogs and the trees, the wind and the elements that surround her.

In time, the nature all around her seems to become the very thing that grounds her and the foundations of her life almost seem to revolve around it. She becomes intuitive with the natural world around her – not in the mystical sense, but the emotional. With her heart and her life rooted deep in the marsh, Kya grows into an isolated, independent young woman who the neighbouring village community unashamedly call ‘swamp trash’. They live their lives separately. But when a young man is found dead, all eyes are suddenly on her.

Encountering themes of loneliness, deprivation, poverty, and prejudice, Where the Crawdads Sing is a powerful novel which encourages readers to step into the marshlands of North Carolina and uncover the beauty of it while getting to know Kya’s heart-breaking story.

Loneliness is ignited in Kya at a young age, as she stands on the front steps of their shack and watches her mother leave for good. That loneliness – and an ache to be loved – stays with her the entire way through the novel. The only friend Kya seems to have is Jumpin’, an old man who she sells mussels to for gas and routine supplies. The tone of the novel, and the words that shape it, echoes the isolation that haunts Kya all her life. We particularly loved the way the passing of time is frequently marked by the movement of the sun, or the moon, which unerringly stirs us into Kya’s world and sweeps us back through time into the place she inhabits.

What’s more, the setting was written so beautifully. The waxing, lyrical prose is purposeful and brings the marsh and the shores of North Carolina to life with sharp detail. From the trees that are ‘shaped like the wind’ to the thick, heavy North Carolina marsh air, this novel is teeming with life. The crayfish, crabs, herons, frogs, salamanders and wild geese, the call of the distant seabirds and their cries as they swoop closer to the shore; it all pulls you deeper into the narrative and – please pardon the pun – it drags you down deep. Throughout, Owens captures the way people talk and how they live right down to the abundance of nature that hums beneath the surface and sweeps the skies.

And, of course, Owens also doesn’t shy away from the poverty and the social inequality that was rife in America at the time this novel was set, significantly moulding the shape of the narrative and underpinning the themes of prejudice, loneliness and isolation that’s, sadly, still so prevalent and resonant in the world today.

We also loved how the history of the land and all that’s come before it is also featured in the prose. There’s a knowingness to the landscape here that feels incredibly rich. For instance, Owen encourages the reader to visualise those who have ventured to North Carolina marshland throughout history; sailors whose ships had run aground, pioneers, settlers and adventurers, slaves who found freedom but had little options on where to go so found solace in the marshland; slaves who escaped their masters and found safety in the marsh; and men who lost their fortunes after the war and could only afford a dwelling to support their families there. All those who found their fate in this boggy and deceiving landscape – their stories are prevalent here.

Combining this with Kya’s story created a novel that’s collectively beautiful, stirring and poignant. We truly loved it.

A novel like this only comes along every once in a while, and getting the chance to read it, and get swept away into this world of 1960s North Carolina, was an absolute pleasure. If you have read this book too, or if it’s still on your reading list, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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