Where the Crawdads Sing

Set in 1950’s North Carolina, Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of the marsh girl, Kya, abandoned and left to raise herself amongst the wildness of the marsh. The novel begins when Kya is six years old and documents the sudden departure of her mother. After all of her siblings soon follow, she is left alone with her alcoholic and abusive father in their shack in the marsh. Her father is most often vacant, and so Kya learns to raise herself, the gulls her only friends. Mourning her mother and her siblings, Kya is lonely and finds her only solace amongst nature: her understanding of the marsh, the swamp, the sea and the creatures astonishing. When one day her father fails to return home, Kya realises she truly is alone in the world. Surviving through her own initiatives and the help of the only people to show her kindness, Jumpin and Mabel, Kya makes do – until she meets Tate, and falls in love. Owens jumps between perspectives, simultaneously documenting the murder of a local man when Kya is in her mid 20’s. A coming of age story, murder mystery and ode to nature, Where the Crawdads Sing is touching, devastating and compelling, using Kya’s narrative to seamlessly string such themes together. 

What I found the most compelling about this novel was the way Owens so convincingly, emotively and intensely locates Kya’s personal narrative in such symbioses with the marsh and the natural world within which she lives and is so in touch with. In doing so, Owens reinstates the power, beauty and intricacy of the natural world and the way in which such environments play a huge part upon human narratives. I have not read such an intense evocation of the natural world in a novel in such a long time – if ever – and it caused me to realise how often contemporary novels overlook the role of the natural world and the place of people within it. It was just such a beautiful story.

Owens also touches on the political issues which are ingrained in the history of the era and the location which the novel is set, expertly brushing upon prejudice, class issues, poverty and racism. Her use of setting paints such a vivid picture, and within the first through pages I was transported to the place from which she was writing. From this space, it was easy to connect with the compelling narratives of the characters which emerge from such a space. I’m still thinking over the ending, and I’m not sure whether I find it totally convincing (I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers) – but for me this doesn’t detract from the novel at all. Where The Crawdads Sing has reminded me of the complexities of nature through a narrative which revolves around the wildness of the marsh girl herself.

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