Barbara Kingsolver's Demon Copperhead has become one of my favourite literary characters. The book of his name is about him, no surprises. Apparently he is inspired by Dickens’ David Copperfield. Indeed, I am hearing that it took Kingsolver to be sat at Charles Dickens’ desk in Broadstairs, England for her to catch the muse.
Well, I know nothing about David Copperfield but Demon’s is quite the story. Kingsolver tells the tale as Demon’s very personal journey of an orphan who lives a poor life and faces with all kinds of hits, finally into prescription drugs.
Behind it though she is exposing the pharmaceutical companies who have caused drug addiction in particular areas across America. For Demon and those of Lee County in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia prescription drugs have become the daily experience.
Kingsolver is a magnificent writer and conjures believable characters, full of foibles and quirks but most of them all at some points precious and loveable. Human.
She also has this ability to conjure scenes of light, utter joy, fun, insight, sadness and utter darkness. Around all of that she throws out little secrets to living. Marylinne Robinson-esque in the spiritual wisdom she throws.
As said above, she deals with the objective and subjective. Objectively she asks questions about the prejudice of race and class, highlighting the built in prejudice towards the poor and less fortunate. The difference of living in the city or the country is an intriguing study throughout.
Demon and the recurring but eventual love of his life Angel, perfectly named, somehow against all the odds make it through a book of death, most drug induced and misadventure. None of their friends make it. They rub against malevolent presences as well as those bring who grace.
Though set in Virginia I was constantly thinking of areas of Belfast. The Shankill and The Falls have places where drugs and violence and suicide are ripping young people and communities apart. Lack of investment in jobs, education attainment and drugs legal and illegal. Michael Magee’s Close To Home touches on some of these issues. The balance of dignity and pity is always tricky in the story's telling. People will judge how Kingsolver did with that.
Demon Copperhead, though at times very funny, is a heartbreaking read. I didn’t find it the page turner others did. I felt we could have done without some of the repetitive detail of sex and drugs. Barbara needs an editor? There were parts where I trudged through.
In the end I am so glad to have finished it, so glad to have journeyed to the far end of Demon Copperhead’s resilience. I came to feel I knew him and was rooting for him. Brandon Flowers from the Killers shouted Helen Keller’s “The world is full of suffering but the world is also filled with the over coming of suffering” into my neighbourhood sky the week I finished the novel. This is full of both.