Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible

When I lend a friend one of my most-loved books, I always feel some mild anxiety, hoping that they will love my book baby as much as I do. It isn’t always the case, and it makes me a little sad when it happens, like maybe my friend and I have different views on the ‘important’ things. Obviously that’s a bit over-dramatic, but that pang is felt for about 0.1 of a second before I get over it. Recently, one of my friends let me borrow her favourite book of all time, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and I felt the reverse pressure – hoping I wouldn’t hate her book baby.

I needn’t have worried, because The Poisonwood Bible was a very enjoyable read. The story is about an evangelical Baptist, Nathan, who takes his wife and four daughters from the US to Congo in 1959, where he is to be a village missionary. Each chapter of the book is told through the eyes of a different female member of the family, and we follow their story over a few decades, following not only the events of the family members but also the events happening in the world around them, in post-colonial Africa.

This is a long book with a lot of character development and depth to it. One of the things I both enjoyed and got irritated at was the switch of narration between characters. I thought it was effective on the one hand because it provided a bigger umbrella of stories within the story, more attachment to certain characters, and kept the pace of the novel going despite its length. But this switching of narrators irritated me at times for a few reasons. Actually, only one main reason, now that I think about it, just with different examples. The reason is this: I wanted to know more. We see Nathan losing himself over time, but we only ever get to hear from the females and never from Nathan. Why not? I wanted to know what was going on in his mind. We see the mother give up and sink into despair, leaving the girls to take care of things for a time. What tipped her over the edge? What was she thinking at the time? And sometimes one narrator will mention something that is happening to one of the other girls but we don’t get the story from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. It just left me wanting more at times.

Wanting to know more is not, however, a major complaint. It’s actually a good thing that Barbara Kingsolver’s writing had me so interested in the lives of her characters that I wanted to know every little thing. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting and felt like I was actually there sometimes, seeing ants march along the ground or sensing the expanse of the river. While I don’t list this as one of my ultimate favourites, it is definitely worth a read, and I’m glad that I finally took the time to.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: 4 out of 5 stars.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible

  1. I have a love/hate relationship with Kingsolver. I really like her story concepts, but, I think that her books would lose nothing from being reduced by 1/3 in length. I have had the same issue with three of her books, this book, Lacuna and Flight Behaviour. IMHO, she needs a good editor to tighten up the rambling story telling. I’m not sure I would choose to read another.

  2. Glad you liked it, Melsy! I really must give Richard Flanagan’s book another go, especially after seeing him speak at Writers’ Week!

    Wait until you get to Book 3 and 4 of Game of Thrones… the narrators change, and people who were there previously now aren’t…!

  3. So many people have raved about this book and it’s in the 746 TBR. I read Flight Behaviour last year and found it intriguing. It never really grabbed me, but the beauty of the writing kept me enthralled and some images from it are still very vivid in my mind. I’ll give this one a go soon…

  4. Pingback: 2014 in review | Bookabye Baby

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