Karen Russell - Swamplandia! (3 stars)

A family drama from author of St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

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Karen Russell - Swamplandia!

Here comes the debut novel from another one of those clever-clever New Yorker magazine’s ‘20 under 40’ types that we just have to be reading. The premise to Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! is certainly attention-grabbing. Teenager Ava Bigtree has just lost her mother to cancer, a traumatic event in itself, but more so when she is then left in charge of the Bigtree’s company with her father heading off to chase some new investment. But this is no ordinary family-run business: the clan own an alligator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades.

Although Russell possesses a light wit, there are passages that are meant to be profound, but come across as lumpen: ‘the Beginning of the End can feel a lot like the middle when you are living in it’ we are told at the start while later, ‘what I did next was all instinct as if my muscles were staging a coup’. Russell’s previous publication, St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves was a delicious short story collection, from which this novel has evolved. Stretched to its very limit at times, the tale would have benefitted from staying exactly where it was.

Published by Chatto & Windus.

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