By Barbara Kingsolver
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emon Copperhead is a once-in-a-generation novel that breaks and mends your heart in the way only the best fiction can. Demon’s story begins with his traumatic birth to a single mother in a single-wide trailer, looking ‘like a little blue prizefighter.’ For the life ahead of him he would need all of that fighting spirit, along with buckets of charm, a quick wit, and some unexpected talents, legal and otherwise. In the southern Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, poverty isn’t an idea, it’s as natural as the grass grows.
For a generation growing up in this world, at the heart of the modern opioid crisis, addiction isn’t an abstraction, it’s neighbours, parents, and friends. ‘Family’ could mean love, or reluctant foster care. For Demon, born on the wrong side of luck, the affection and safety he craves is as remote as the ocean he dreams of seeing one day.
The wonder is in how far he’s willing to travel to try and get there. Suffused with truth, anger and compassion, Demon Copperhead is an epic tale of love, loss and everything in between.Tweet
I loved this book. Demon's character was wonderfully developed and you just can't help rooting for him and hoping that everything turns out OK. The book is really just the story of his life to date, but he manages to cram quite a lot into it as can be seen by the length of the book. Please don't miss out on this one. It really is worth the investment in time it will take to read it.
Demon Copperhead grows up in the Appalachian mountains in circumstances that are far from ideal. Born to a teenage single mother, his childhood goes from bad to worse, encompassing foster care, child labour, drug addiction and far more besides. But he is a survivor and this book catalogues his peaks and his troughs, all told from the perspective of Demon himself.
Much to my surprise I really enjoyed this book. I put it off for a while as it was a very daunting prospect for three reasons. Firstly it’s sheer size – it’s like an encyclopedia. Secondly, I had flicked through some online reviews and it was often described as being a US version of Shuggie Bain. Now I have not read Shuggie Bain, and deliberately so – it sounds very depressing and nobody that I know who has read it has particularly enjoyed it. Thirdly, I gathered from the reviews that it is a rewrite of David Copperfield, one of my all-time favourite books, and I was worried that it might ruin my view of the original. Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained I launched myself into the breach, pretty much preconditioned not to enjoy the book (in fact I was almost determined not to like it). Surprise, surprise, I loved it. Demon is a likeable character which helps considerably given the amount of time we spend with him, and I was rooting for him all the way. Despite the dire circumstances in which he finds himself, he struggles on regardless and does his best. And his best is generally pretty good. The book is exceptionally well written although the writing style is unusual and takes a bit of getting used to. The sentence construction is odd and doesn’t always flow easily and the sentences are often very short (one word sentences are not unheard of), giving a staccato-like feel to the narrative. It’s almost a stream-of consciousness approach but I was soon very comfortable with it. None of the aforementioned issues presented any problems for me whatsoever. In fact I am not at all sure that I would even have recognised it as a rewrite of David Copperfield, had I not known beforehand, although with the benefit of hindsight it is a very clever adaptation. All in all I agree wholeheartedly with Kate Atkinson that this is a fantastic book.
I do have two slightly less favourable comments but they were not game-changers. The first is that I found it dragged a little in the middle and the second is that the ending felt rushed. Up until that point it felt as though Demon’s entire existence had been catalogued in minute detail. Then suddenly it was all over with just a brief summary of his later achievements.
This is the first book I have read by this author. In fact I had never heard of her before but I will certainly be looking out for more of her work as she is clearly a very accomplished writer. I’m not sure that it will be everybody’s cup of tea and it is a very long book so, although I recommend it whole-heartedly, it is also with a certain amount of caution.
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I was very impressed with this book, and it is my best read of 2022 (so far). I have never read David Copperfield but I understand this novel is a contemporary reworking of that tale. For me, it is an excellent standalone novel.
It is based in Southern Appalachia, an overlooked and deprived region with a strong sense of community and few prospects. The protagonist, Damon Fields / Demon Copperhead is born into poverty and encounters continuous misfortune after he is orphaned. He is battered by life but resilient, and things do turn around for him. However, he continues to be affected by his early life and his environment and hits rock bottom again.
He lived to tell the tale, and the telling of the tale is magical. His voice is stunning, and Kingsolver has captured so much with it – his poor self-worth coupled with an incredible sense of resilience. His descriptions of what was happening around and to him are not flowery at all, and have great impact. He is succinct, down to earth and often darkly humorous and I found myself cheering him on, hoping for the best for him.
Demon is such a powerful character, and Kingsolver’s skilful characterisation means the full ‘cast’ is authentic and together gives an excellent insight into that deprived region of the US.
The area is gripped by an opioid crisis, created by big pharma exploiting a poor and underemployed population, and we can see the challenges and tragedy associated with this. There is a strong socio-political undercurrent to the book and we are left with much to reflect upon. Kingsolver is from Kentucky herself, and I was impressed by how she gave a voice to the rural underclass of the US.
I will be recommending this book to anyone, it really is excellent.
I didn't expect to like this book. I don't really enjoy Dickens, I don't tend to like books about poverty/drug addiction, and 500+ pages of one kid's life didn't sound like my thing at all. I was given a free copy from our book club, but otherwise I would never have picked it up.
And yet… turns out Kingsolver is an incredible writer. The most remarkable thing about this novel is the voice. Demon's way of speaking, his turns of phrase, the metaphors he uses… it's all so wonderful fresh and unique, so precise and insightful yet so faithful to the character. There's nothing long or literary about the descriptions, but they're all so clever and spot-on. I lost track of the times I read a phrase and thought, "yes, that's the absolute perfect way of describing that." Demon really comes alive in his narration, and we come to understand his world like we're right there with him.
The story itself is solid, nothing particularly exceptional, but the way it takes Dickens' plot and transports it to the American south in the middle of the opioid crisis works surprisingly well. Even for a Dickens ignoramus like me, it's fun to spot the ways Kingsolver plays with the characters (like the McCobb family, or U-Haul-- a completely disgusting reworking of Uriah Heap). Throughout, DEMON COPPERHEAD felt like it was faithful to the source material, while still managing to stand as its own unique story.
Of course, at over 500 pages, this is a long novel and much of it makes for a depressing read. It's not a good choice if you're looking for something fast-paced or uplifting, as there are lengthy sections where little happens except Demon dealing with bad thing after bad thing. That said, the sheer quality of the writing kept me turning pages, and I really cared for Demon and wanted things to work out alright for him. Normally this is exactly the kind of book I'd say was dull, but in this instance I couldn't stop reading.
Overall, this was very much not the sort of novel I tend to enjoy, and yet I couldn't help but love it. I don't say this often, but DEMON COPPERHEAD is just so well-written that it's unfair to give it anything less than five stars.
What a roller coaster of a read! I found my emotions all over the place whilst reading this book - it was a difficult read following Damon's storyline, very emotional, dark and uplifting in parts. Not a book you can read quickly - well not for me - I found myself reading a few pages then putting it down to mull over what I had just read - quite a draining read emotionally - but I would recommend it nevertheless. I do feel it was a tad too long, and I know that members of my book club were enjoying their read but found they could not invest the time to complete the book - however i do know they will pick it up again in the future when the time is right for them to do so.
MC (Michele's book club)
I agree with Kate Atkinson - this was a fantastic book. Demon hasn't had the best of starts in life but he ploughs on regardless and does his best. And his best is generally pretty good. It is well written and also comes with a compelling storyline. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't realise that it was based on David Copperfield until I had finished the book and read a couple of reviews. Needless to therefore say that it works perfectly well as a stand-alone book, whether or not you are familiar with its inspiration. My only slightly negative comment is that it is rather long, and possibly doesn't need to be. Overall a great book.
Very distinctive way to write a novel,it was very dark in places and the characters come across as gritty. Damon is a complex lead character who draws you into his world and you find it hard to put this book down and walk away because of that.
Very interesting and compelling book.
There are not enough superlatives to describe this novel. I haven’t read David Copperfield, or anything else by this author, so this was a standalone book for me. What a treat! I don’t think I have ever been as fully absorbed in a story as this one. I finished the book emotionally drained, with tears in my eyes. Superb.