Sunday 3 July 2011

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver

images via and here, here
I've recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel 'The Lacuna' and I didn't want it to end. As I reached the final chapters, I actually found myself slowing down, rationing out the pages in the same way that I might savour the last few mouthfuls of a slice of chocolate cake.

For me this was a book of three parts. Something about the style and content of the first section reminded me of Paulo Coelho's, 'The Alchemist.' This was partly because the author constantly referred to the main protaganist as "the boy." Reading this section I impatiently anticipated the introduction of one of the more colourful characters that I knew were going to be part of the story; Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera or Lev Trotsky. I'd just got to thinking...'Ok enough of the back story...when do we meet one of them?' when 'the boy' meets 'the painter'.
As the boy, Harrison Shepherd (or Insolito/Sol, to Frieda) was precipitated into the bustling kakofanie of 1930's Mexico and the Rivera household, I couldn't help make comparisons with Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Both books are set in Mexico at a similar time, and food and the kitchen play a significant part in their narrative. LWFC begins each chapter with a recipe, similarly Part 3 of The Lacuna opens with the directions for making empandas dulces with a sweet pineapple and star anise filling. Each have mouth watering descriptions of food preparation and made me really want to try out the recipes for myself.

Most of Kingsolver's characters are totally self-absorbed, putting their art, politics and personal desires before those of others. I've always had a soft spot for Frieda Kahlo's melancholic personality, and "dark eyebrows joined in a handshake over the bridge of her nose" but despite this, the first person that I really warmed to was 'Bulls Eye' a young boy that Shepherd befriends in Washington.

Then in 'Part 4, Asheville, North Carolina 1941-1947,' Violet Brown came on the scene and I loved her. VB was my heroin, she really made this story for me. In a time of prejudice and hatred this prim widow in her mid-forties with her white gloves and porcupine of knitting, was just ace.

I liked the calmness of Harrison's home "...the house is still, keeping secrets. The floors are made of the long, narrow hearts of trees brought down from mountain slopes, the chimneys are stones rolled and round as biscuits in the Swannanoa River...The mitred oak doorsills are like deep wooden picture frames, each holding a perfect view of the next room, where the walls are touched with light, and life could be waiting."

It's obvious that Kingsolver had researched everything thoroughly, from the life of the real characters, to Mexican history, American and Russian politics, popular culture, and a myriad of other things. The only bug bare for me was the inclusion of newspaper articles, diary entries and letters. I had the same problem when reading 'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle' which had a similar format. I'm happy to read them in biographies but in a novel I find it all a bit disjointed. I want the narrative to flow more smoothly...but I suppose that life is like that though, that's how our own stories unfold with lots of little messy bits...

Definitely one to read...


  1. Thank you for this wonderful recommendation.

    I absolutely love Barbara Kingsolver's books.

    I have heard good things about The Lacuna

    - but this has probably tipped me from

    'I'll wait till the book crosses my path' to

    'I gotta read it'. Now.

    Many thanks for feedback on my blog too.

    Nice to visit your blog and find a fellow

    Kingsolver fan...


  2. Thank you Elisabeth... I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    I'm addicted to your spelt recipe now...!