Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver


Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against a world which seems to hold little mercy for her and her family – or their old, crumbling house, falling down around them.

Willa’s two grown-up children, a new-born grandchild, and her ailing father-in-law have all moved in at a time when life seems at its most precarious.

But when Willa discovers that a pioneering female scientist lived on the same street in the 1800s, could this historical connection be enough to save their home from ruin?

And can Willa, despite the odds, keep her family together?

Review by Laura

Having now finished the book, I can say I think I enjoyed it but it took me a while to get going.

As a Yorkshire gal, I like my books how I like my tea. I’m not one for the fancy or flowery, be that in my mug or on the page. So while the story itself is mostly relatable, the fact that each chapter switches between the present day family (Willa Knox & co.) and the 19th century storyline (Thatcher Greenwood and Mary Treat) made it difficult for me to get into it.

It is a trademark of Barbara Kingsolver, who used a similar technique in The Poisonwood Bible, but I found it all the more jarring here because the setting is so much more mundane AND the title for each chapter is the last few words of the previous chapter’s text… all a bit distracting, if you ask me.

Nevertheless, once I got over the structural issues, the plot is pretty interesting; a clear, no holds barred critique of how society does not learn from its mistakes, using parallels between the two centuries throughout.

From the ‘Bullhorn’ character of modern American politics (a not-so-veiled reference to Trump) mirrored by Landis, the tyrannical capitalist founder of the town, to current media coverage of climate change compared to the resistance of the 19th century church against Darwinism, Kingsolver is not one for subtle metaphors and occasionally the characters, or the ideas, come across as overly caricatured.

Still, the book covers a range of issues that are worthy of discussion and perhaps by dealing with them head on, the author is encouraging us to do the same?

I’d be interested to hear what other people thought, as I still haven’t quite made up my mind.

unsheltered book club

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  1. Just in case you haven’t noticed the typo, it’s Kingsolver not Kingslover – see the cover illustration in your article. It should only take a moment to fix in online!

    Best wishes from one of PO Life’s longstanding admirers!

    1. Haha. Another title for another book for another day 🙂 Thanks for the correction Stephen. Now changed.

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