Friday 8 April 2011

Orange 2011: Swamplandia! (Karen Russell)

I was immediately attracted to this candidate on the Orange longlist by the exclamation mark at the end of the title. I definitely overuse exclamation marks, but I love to see them in slightly unexpected situations. Book titles are one, the other is obviously town names - isn't Westward Ho! just brilliant?! I'm particularly pleased with how many of the Orange titles that I have read this year have been so very un-mainstream - this riveting coming of age almost fairy tale with crocodiles among the cast is certainly that (I did have to get over my childhood fear of crocodiles but it was worth it).

We meet the Bigtree family who live on, and own, the remote theme park, Swamplandia in South Florida. One of the main attractions is the park's alligators, and their mother is a famed alligator wrestler. Ava, the youngest daughter aspires to be like her mother. But when we meet them, things are starting to unravel. Hilola, the mother, has just died of cancer, losing one of the park's big draws, and leaving the family somewhat devastated. Visitor numbers are dropping. And their father, The chief, decides to leave in order to drum up business and acquire a new alligator. The three children are left behind. Kiwi, the son, also leaves the island, and believes that he can earn enough money to save the park by working at a rival attraction, The world of darkness, a park themed on hell. Ossie, the elder girl, falls in love with a ghost, and elopes, leaving Ava to try and retrieve her from the underworld.

It was colourful and fascinating, and just "different" and I will be especially interested to see whether or not it makes it to the shortlist - I would think that it deserves to for being so very different.

Many thanks to Fiona who sent me this title on behalf of Chatto and Windus.


  1. This doesn't sound like the sort of book I would have picked up. But I do recognise the use of exclamation marks, I always have to watch myself I can use so many!!

  2. This was a book I had on my wishlist pre-Orange as I have Karen Russell's debut short stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which is another fantastic title. I'm excited to read it!

  3. I just finished this book the other day and I absolutely loved it, glad you enjoyed it also! Since reading this, I find that I keep wanting to watch Swamp People on the History Channel, its becoming a true obsession. :)

  4. This was the first of my Orange Prize reads for this year (well, I'd read Room previously, before the list was announced) and I was really looking forward to it because I absolutely loved the excerpt, Karen Russell's short story, in the New Yorker. Ironically, that was a very small bit, almost tangential, in the overall novel, but I enjoyed it all the same.


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