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Summary

2016 Vineland. 

Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against the vicissitudes of her shattered life and family - and the crumbling house that contains her.

1871 Vineland.

Thatcher Greenwood, the new science teacher, is a fervent advocate of the work of Charles Darwin, and he is keen to communicate his ideas to his students. But those in power in Thatcher's small town have no desire for a new world order. Thatcher and his teachings are not welcome.

Both Willa and Thatcher resist the prevailing logic. Both are asked to pay a high price for their courage.

A testament to the power and goodness of human spirit, Unsheltered explores the foundations we build, crossing time and place to give us all a little more hope in those around us, and a little more faith in ourselves.

©2018 Barbara Kingsolver (P)2018 Faber Audio

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Over-stuffed with good things

I’ve respected Barbara Kingsolver’s work since the wonderful Poisonwood Bible twenty years ago, but I was disappointed with Unsheltered. Her deep-seated concerns are clear and there are some similarities between this novel and fellow American Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance (reviewed by me 20/8/18) - not least in having the main character being called Willa.

Kingsolver’s Willa lives in Vineland New Jersey in an old inherited house with her elderly and sick Greek father-in-law living on the top floor. Her universe disintegrates as their son returns home with a very young baby after its mother commits suicide, and their massively opinionated daughter returns out of the blue from her aimless travels with a boyfriend – and they all have to live together in a house that is seriously disintegrating. The situation is a metaphor for the crumbling of everything around us in today’s society in America and even globally.

Kingsolver is a political writer with impassioned views, wide knowledge about the natural world and insight into the failings of contemporary society from failing healthcare and man-made ecological ruination, to the impossible economic pressures on families (and much more). The trouble with Unsheltered is that I found it over-ambitious and just too stuffed, however good parts are. A huge part of the book is a parallel story of nineteenth century Darwinism in the re-created life of one pioneer who had once lived in Willa’s house and corresponded with Darwin. There’s far TOO much about carnivorous plants and 19th century letters, however interesting they are in this parallel story. It clogs and confuses the whole, even though I can see Kingsolver’s intention is to make a parallel between society facing the apparent end of the world as they have known it now and then.

16 hours is too long – Clock Dance was 9 hours and made its message more succinctly and effectively. Kingsolver’s characters are carrying such polemical weight that they are just too heavy-going to breathe as real people.

Kingsolver’s narration is superb, however. She has a good voice and she knows exactly how to convey the nuances of her own beautifully written work.

33 people found this helpful

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Could not get into this story

Just found very boring and - sorry- Barbara’s voice is quite annoying! Very slow and didn’t get me straight away so persevered but to no avail!

8 people found this helpful

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Incredible Writing

Amazing book. Certainly makes one think of our worlds future. Barbara is an amazing narrator.

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family pain

this is a book which is worth keeping on with. the small cast of characters cover two historical periods so there are times when you play catch-up as you listen. in Kingsolver you have a very competent reader, whose voice is a pleasure to hear (& I speak as a Brit!).

6 people found this helpful

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Another great book from Barbara Kingsolver

Having the author read her own book and read it so well, was a real bonus on what is already a wonderful book. Again I learnt so much from Ms Kingsolver. Her talent is to tell a gripping story about characters you come to really care for while giving you nuggets of facts along the way. Of course her books have a political bias but to me that is a plus.

4 people found this helpful

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Skillfully woven story which really drew me in!

This is my first book by Kingsolver and I really enjoyed it. Fully realised characters and an engaging narrative with lots of detail and emotional complexity which had me fully invested. The parallel of 19th century rejection of modern science and the cult of Vineland's charismatic leader was pitched perfectly against the present day story during Trump's election campaign, without hammering the point home too bluntly. The botany elements were a really nice touch in bringing you into the minutia of the characters' internal worlds, and the basic human fallability of everybody involved had a comforting ring of truth. I'll definitely try more Kingsolver, especially if read by the author.

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wonderful reading of a wonderful book!

Double time fascinating story read by the author kept me awake night after night. The contemporary story so resonant & recognisable, the early utopian settlement turned dystopian beautifully, intriguingly interwoven...

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Two stories, one great lesson

It took me a while to understand the point of the parallels between the two stories, but when I finally did, it made this book as good as any other of Barbara Kingsolver's and one that's given me food for thought. I don't think the 'lessons' in this book are about the broken healthcare system or failing economy, etc. They are just there to provide context. It's actually much simpler than that. As much as society was stuck in its ways in the mid to late 1800s, with many desperately trying to cling to the old ways, we're no different today - even those who feel they are more progressive, as Willa herself does in this story. Added to that, I loved Ms Kingsolver as narrator.

1 person found this helpful

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Slightly disappointed by my favourite author

I’ve loved Bárbara Kingsolvers other books but I struggled with this one. The present day part of the story just about held my interest but the historical part did not. I wasn’t keen on the way it was read although I have liked her reading of previous books. Perhaps I should have read the book in print.

1 person found this helpful

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my FAVOURITE writer, Barbara is an absolute genius

I had high expectations for this book, and it didn't disappoint. A beautifully woven treat.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Emily
  • 02-01-19

A beautifully written slow story

If you like beautiful slice of life type reads, this will be up your alley. Some interesting thoughts and great characters but nothing really happens so it just sort of ambles along. Had to listen at 1.2 speed as the narration is really slow.

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  • Dragonfly
  • 30-11-19

Labouring the message

Barbara Kingsolver has written many good books. Perhaps the flaws came out when listening to the audible version of this one. And yes, the messages were clear and will stay with me - our fortunes turn on a dime, the generation gap, what we need to learn from millenials, and more ..... but it was all quite laboured and felt like a beating.