Rich and real shel­ter

Napier Courier - - News -

Un­shel­tered — Bar­bara King­solver (Faber & Faber, $36.99) re­viewed by Louise Ward, War­dini Books.

This novel deals with the idea of shel­ter and ex­po­sure in many forms, pri­mar­ily in the guise of a par­tic­u­lar house as it weath­ers the storms of time and the fam­i­lies who call it home.

In 2016 Willa and her hus­band Iano move to Vineland, a town built in the late 1800s by Cap­tain Lan­dis, upon utopian ideals. Willa’s life is fall­ing apart and so is the house that should have been her refuge. Her prickly daugh­ter has moved in, Iano’s fa­ther is dy­ing in one crum­bling room and when their son’s part­ner takes her own life they in­herit a new­born grand­son. The threat of a big­oted new pres­i­dent seems laugh­able but looms large as he runs a cam­paign of fear and ha­tred. Willa’s one hope is that the town’s his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety may turn up some­thing that will help her save her home. In 1871 new teacher Thatcher lives in a Vineland house that has been un­wisely ex­tended. The cracks in his home, his young mar­riage and his ca­reer run along­side each other as he at­tempts to pro­pound Dar­win­ism in a pro­foundly Chris­tian new town. Cap­tain Lan­dis has an in­ex­pli­ca­ble amount of in­flu­ence and rules by spread­ing fear and ha­tred. Thatcher’s one hope is the sup­port of­fered him by his ec­cen­tric neigh­bour Mrs Treat, a spi­der-rear­ing sci­en­tist next door and a correspondent of Dar­win.

There is so much story in this novel. The di­a­logue is rich and real — morally op­posed sib­lings scrap, Vic­to­rian mores are in­fu­ri­at­ing, sci­en­tific con­ver­sa­tions are so im­mer­sive the reader feels like the in­sect on the wall, hov­er­ing a little too close to Mrs Treat’s Venus Fly­trap. The con­nec­tion be­tween Thatcher and Willa is a ten­u­ous thread as she tries des­per­ately to put to­gether the pieces of her home’s past to se­cure its fu­ture. There is scan­dal, in­jus­tice and many par­al­lels be­tween past and present. Un­shel­tered is an fas­ci­nat­ing read, ex­pertly put to­gether.

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