The bestselling novel, its controversial author, the glossy film adaptation and a cold case murder … here’s the lowdown …
Main featured image Daisy Edgar Jones in Where The Crawdads Sing via @CrawdadsMovie
Delia Owens’ debut novel Where The Crawdads Sing was an undoubted lockdown hit, having sold over 12 million copies since it was published in 2018 – so much so that “Crawdad” was one of Merriam Webster dictionary’s top ten words of 2021. In case you don’t know, crawdad is a crayfish and the title was inspired by a phrase that Owens’ mother used when she was a child, which is repeated and explained in chapter 17 of the book. It means a place “far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters.”
The success of Crawdads was due in no small measure to the word of mouth recommendations and being snapped up by Reese Witherspoon’s influential book club, Hello Sunshine. It also helped that Owens was 69 when she published – not typically the age to become a literary sensation. She describes writing the book as a whim, adding chapters in fits and starts.
Author Delia Owens photographed by Dawn Marie Tucker; www.deliaowens.com.
The novel, set in the coastal wetlands of North Carolina during the 1950s and 1960s, tells the story of Kya, known as The Marsh Girl, who has a difficult childhood and grows up alone after her family abandons her. She is fascinated by the natural world and spends her days collecting and cataloguing the flora and fauna around her, until she is a suspect in a murder investigation that is …
Clearly Owens’ novel, which is perhaps part autobiographical, ticks a lot of boxes. Its themes of loneliness, nature, murder, courtroom drama and intrigue, not forgetting romance, appeal to a wide literary base.
Moreover, the authenticity of Owens’ descriptions of the natural world stem from her education and career as a conservationist. She studied zoology and grew up in Georgia, before relocating to the Kalahari desert with her ex-husband Mark Owens to establish a remote research station and study wildlife. (Owens says of this experience they were “the only two people in an area the size of Ireland.”) The Owens co-authored three non-fiction books about their experiences in the wilderness.
Daisy Edgar-Jones pictured at the Irish premiere of Where The Crawdads Sing at The Stella Cinema, Rathmines.
The film adaptation, produced by Reese Witherspoon and directed by Olivia Newman, is released in Ireland and the UK on July 22. It stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as the central protagonist, (who Owens says nailed the southern accent), with a supporting cast of Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson and Garret Dillahunt. An original song, Carolina, by Taylor Swift also features on the soundtrack.
Early reviews have not been favourable, overshadowed by the fact that Owens has been embroiled in a real life murder cold case – that of an alleged poacher in Zambia, and is wanted for questioning by Zambian authorities. When Owens lived in Africa for more than 20 years she was actively involved in anti-poaching activism. No charges have been brought (so far) and Owens has denied involvement.
What is unsettling is the apparent message of Crawdads. *The surprising twist at the end of the novel reveals that Kya gets away with a righteously-motivated murder …For more information on the murder case you can read this article from the New York Times.
Where The Crawdads Sing via @CrawdadsMovie.
Critics have been quick to compare the glossy film adaptation of Nicolas Sparks’ The Notebook with the Crawdads adaptation, which is less swampy and more swoony. There are beautifully choreographed tornados of leaves and flocks of seabirds and perfectly placed flowers and petals – it’s neither wild nor unstyled per the book. Then there’s Edgar-Jones’ performance; she may become typecast as a solitary waif – following her performances in Normal People and Fresh.
However, Owens is pleased with the adaptation and told Refinery29: “Where The Crawdads Sing is very much a mystery and a love story. And I just love the movie. I think it’s one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I didn’t really expect that because I knew the story so well.”
Regardless of your views on this adaptation, the biggest winner is Sony: the film opened in the US, with a solid $17m and shows that audiences are returning to cinemas, in droves.
That can only be good news.
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