Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in the Congo in her early childhood. The novel which earned her a pulitzer prize nomination and an Oprah endorsement, was “The Poisonwood Bible” published in 1998, and follows a missionary family in the colonial Congo. She is now the author of 14 books and her most recent novel “Flight Behaviour “, deals with climate change.
How Does a Novel Start?
I talked a couple of weeks ago in my post on Ray Bradbury, about the short story, referencing one of his quotes. This week I’d like, through Barbara Kingsolver, to look at how a novel might come to fruition. We can look at what is the heart of a novel by looking at her inspiration for it’s beginning.
“I woke up one morning with a vision,” she says. “I don’t know whether it was a dream, but it felt very dreamlike. And I saw – I don’t want to say it because I’ve made a point of not revealing the secret – the beautiful thing that arrives, that starts this novel rolling. I just woke up and saw that, in these forested mountains where I live.”
“I didn’t even understand what I’d imagined,” Kingsolver says, recalling that vision she had, “but I spent all day thinking about it and I’m enough of a biologist to ponder what it would really mean if that did happen here. I immediately saw the whole thing. Often there is a moment when I can see the novel sort of unrolling like a carpet in front of me and that did happen with this book. I think the novel is very much about how we understand and process what we see and how very true it is how we decide first what we believe and then collect evidence to support it, rather than the reverse. When you look at the conversation about climate change it’s baffling that everyone is presented with the same facts but people come away with very different convictions about what’s going on.”
This is one person’s experience, but it struck a chord for me. A novel can start with just the tiniest of sparks, and from that it can unfold or unroll like a carpet, as Kingsolver says. Like the short story, and even more so, you need to have a feeling about the work and be totally immersed in that feeling, otherwise what the book is really about – it’s theme – will be jumbled and confused. One can have more than one theme, but there needs to be a core sentence which you can refer to that tells us what the novel is about. You could call it the elevator pitch, but it is really the heart of the novel. “Flight Behaviour” certainly has plenty of heart, and while I loved “Poisonwood Bible”, I think “Flight Behaviour” is her best novel to date.
As a novelist, can you summarise your latest novel in one sentence? As a reader do you think it’s important to know the theme? Does the theme of the novel influence you in buying the book?
Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media.