Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
I’m pretty sure I heard people were dancing in the streets when Barbara Kingsolver released her new book. I nearly was. This woman is a legend and remains firmly implanted in my ‘Reading Hall of Fame’ for The Poisonwood Bible because apart from being a great book, it was the first book I read where I wept.
There have been countless since but that book was my first.
Unsheltered does not disappoint. I did not weep but I could have when it finished. I wanted to know more. This is one of those clever books which brings two different voices, from different times, into one story and one house.
Willa Knox is a journalist – a married woman and mother who has found herself, and her family, in modern-day Vineland adrift, bereft and lost in a house that is as dilapidated as Willa’s spirit.
Thatcher Greenwood lives in the same house some 250 years before. He is the new science teacher and a loyalist of the work of Charles Darwin at a time when it was dangerous to do so. He tries to share his ideas with his students but in 1871, Thatcher’s ideas are not welcome.
Both Willa and Thatcher feel like outcasts in their town and community yet they find inspiration in one unlikely kindred spirit. The fascinating scientist, adventurer and anachronism Mary Treat lives near Thatcher and they form an extraordinary friendship built upon shared curiosities and loves.
Mary too becomes the reason Willa hurdles from despair to happiness as she is the impetus to Willa’s joyful rediscovery of research, writing and exploring. Mary provides a door for both Thatcher and Willa to escape.
If there was one person in this book I would like to meet, it’s Mary because she is, or was, real. She was a 19th century botanist and many of the characters set around Thatcher are interestingly based on fact.
The skill of Kingsolver is to tell detailed stories with the lightest of touches. If you don’t pay attention, you can miss them. Like how she titles her chapters with the last words from the previous one. I loved that. It took me most of the book to figure it out.
Unsheltered is a gem of a book from a jewel of a writer. It deserves your attention.
And that is my two cents worth.