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Review: Demon Copperhead - Barbara Kingsolver

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published: Faber & Faber, October 2022

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

“A good story doesn’t just copy life, it pushes back on it.”

With the amount of praise this book has gotten, you guys don’t need me to tell you that this is good. Because it is. Barbara Kingsolver has taken on the absolutely daunting task of retelling a world famous classic, with a modern twist, and has somehow managed to do justice to the original, whilst simultaneously writing a novel that stands well enough on its own.

What I loved:

Almost everything that needs to be said about this novel has already been said by other reviewers, and I mostly agree with the majority. Technically, I think this novel is brilliant. Barbara Kingsolver had already proven herself as a fantastic author with Flight Behaviour and The Poisonwood Bible, but this is another testament to her talent. Through her words and narrative voice, Demon Copperhead came to life as a character far more than David Copperfield ever did. They same goes for many of the side characters, which are all very recognizable from their original counterparts; keeping the essential elements and building onto them.

The same could probably be said about the entirety of Demon Copperhead. It echoes the themes and structure of David Copperfield, but adds a modern coat of paint to it, without discrediting the original. I’ve seen other reviewers mention this felt like “another woke-modern-retelling”: it didn’t feel like this to me. It all felt authentic and fitting, and right up until about the 60% I was sure I would give this novel 5-stars.

What I didn’t love:

It’s about that 60% mark where some things began to bother me. Mostly, it was the stereotyping of the environment Demon grows up in, and the choices he made in life because of it. I’m not American and I’ve never been to Appalachia, but you cannot convince me that every single person there is a substance-addicted hillbilly. Yet many of the characters, including Demon himself play into that stereotype, right up until the end. (view spoiler in my Goodreads Review)

Much of that is in stark contrast with the core message at the center of David Copperfield about social mobility being possible thanks to making the right (moral) choices.

The ending, maybe because of the aforementioned spoiler, didn’t feel completely earned to me, and the final image Kingsolver sent us off with felt uncharacteristically “romanticized”. For that reason, Demon Copperhead missed the full 5-star mark in its final stretches, but still stands out to me as a phenomenal piece of fiction that I can support being awarded the Women’s Prize for fiction.

Find this book on here Goodreads

1 Comment

May 26, 2023

Fabulous book. Kingsolver being her usual brilliant self

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