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Barbara Kingsolver

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

December 2022, no. 449

The dedication in Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel reads ‘For the survivors’, and its epigraph is taken from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849), to which Kingsolver’s title pays a sly homage. Her book is a self-conscious reworking of Dickens’s famous novel about an orphan making his way in the world, with Kingsolver’s treatment being narrated by a boy born as Damon Fields in Lee County, Virginia. He acquires his nickname partly from the colour of his hair and partly from the venomous copperhead snake, and after losing his father and mother he finds himself thrown back on his own resilience and talents to keep moving forward. There are many structural parallels with Dickens’s novel – the malevolent Uriah Heep, for example, morphs here into a similarly sinister figure known as ‘U-Haul’ – but these literary allusions never become too intrusive, and Kingsolver’s novel is robustly realistic in its general demeanour.

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Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

December 2018, no. 407

American novelist Barbara Kingsolver is renowned for her ability to infuse her fiction with her politics, in particular a passionate concern for nature and the environment. Prodigal Summer, published in 2000, is a celebration of the relationship between humans and nature; Flight Behaviour, published in 2012, is about climate change. No surprise then that her latest novel, Unsheltered, is set during two periods of scientific upheaval – the 1870s and the present – in which humans are confronted by the undeniable evidence of their own limitations. ‘I wanted,’ Kingsolver said, ‘to look at a paradigm shift, at how people behave at these moments of history when all the rules they trusted to hold true suddenly don’t apply anymore.’

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