Wrapping Up The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Well, this was not an easy read, and some members couldn’t stick with the book; I understand–Kingsolver is not for everyone. However, most of us loved The Lacuna. We liked that it is such a rich novel–there are so many layers to it and so much to discuss. And we even made an attempt to look at the novel through some lenses of literary theory: New Criticism, Cultural Criticism, and Post-colonialism.

Some of the members’ insightful comments that I want to highlight here (these are almost bullet points because I am short on time–I have to move on to The Picture of Dorian Gray–and go to the grocery store!):

A big part of what this book is about is voice. Harrison has to find his and he does so by giving a voice to the “mute culture” of the ancient Mexicans. However, his own voice is then silenced by the howler monkeys–the press–as he refuses to answer or respond to their claims of ‘fact’ and their allegations against him. His silence here got us talking about the public vs private person of a writer or other notable. Just how much does a writer owe his/ her readers? Harrison’s voice, through his words, are refused an audience as the public turns against him, but in the end, his voice, through the words of Violet Brown, are written down–and survive.

Voice leads to words and language and we all talked about the power of language and how it can create a ‘reality’ that is then taken for fact, but isn’t necessarily ‘real’ or ‘true.’ Or perhaps isn’t the entire story. This led into a discussion of perspective.

Even the structure of the book, a mix of journal, memoir, clippings, and more, seems to shout out that there are different angles from which to view something or someone. Which led us into a discussion about what truth is–is there such a thing, or is it just a perspective? Or is it a consensus of perspectives?

This led us into a discussion of the lacuna–the missing part to the story. Well, there were a lot of lacunae that we discussed. For example, one member saw the lacuna as an empty space to be given definition by others. And tied this to the identity of Harrison.

Other members saw the lacuna as a void or abyss. A scary, potentially fatal place to pass through and come into a sort of rebirth on the other side. We tied this to the birth of identity of Harrison when Frida sent him his notes and papers–when he could then become a writer.

Some members saw the lacuna as a gap to be filled–the missing part of the story–and tied this to what the press does when they don’t know the full story–they just fill it in with whatever they want.

Which then got us talking–isn’t there always more to the story? Can we ever know all there is to know about someone or something?

We also talked about the gap as what we fill in as readers–it’s the space of interpretation between what is said and what isn’t.

We all loved the howler monkeys–and we talked about the game of telephone–one person tells another who tells another and by the end of the chain–gossip, rumor, innuendo becomes fact, becomes reality, becomes truth and history.

One member brought up the fear that is pervasive in the book–Harrison’s fear, the public’s fear, the fear of those times, the fear of our times.

And we talked about history. Everyone agreed that the book was saying that history repeats itself–so watch out! Many of us found this to be depressing, but one member said, no, there is a hopeful message that we can get off this runaway train of history through art. I really love thinking about this…

We talked about art and politics and I look forward to more discussions about art as the season progresses. Does art, and this includes literature, have an obligation to be political? Or is it political without even trying to be? Can you separate politics from art?

Many of us agreed that this novel is an indictment of the press and of group-think. An indictment of taking what others have told us for fact and not looking deeper ourselves for the missing parts. And then, interestingly, we talked about how this novel is just another source of information that we need to consider in the context of its missing parts. Kingsolver can be pretty heavy-handed politically, and isn’t she doing the exact same thing that she is criticizing others for doing? Isn’t she only telling part of the story, her version of the story? Yet again, can you ever tell the whole story? Isn’t there, as we asked above, always more to the story? Isn’t there always another lacuna?

We talked about flatness of the characters, especially Harrison, and agreed that he is really a vehicle to get the points of the story across to us, and to take us on a journey through history. Many didn’t like the book because they couldn’t warm up to the characters, and one member said she absolutely hated the novel and thought it was absurd. Most everyone enjoyed reading about Frida and Diego–how could you not?

We talked about lots more, but I’m going to wrap this up right now and let YOU weigh in and POST A COMMENT. Tell me what I’ve forgotten, tell me your thoughts, tell me whatever you like!

2 thoughts on “Wrapping Up The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. It's funny how Barbara Kingsolver's books are getting more and more challenging, but somehow also more and more rewarding. I don't think I would have stuck with Poisonwood Bible if a friend and fellow-Kingsolver lover hadn't urged me to, saying it would be worth it — she turned out to be right, and that book has really stayed with me. And I surely wouldn't have stuck with The Lacuna if I hadn't had that experience, and if didn't have such loyalty and respect for the author. I couldn't believe how hard it was to get into this one, and how ponderous the pace, and at times, the tone were. I rarely give a book that many pages before giving up if I'm not really involved with it… but in the end, yep, it was totally worth it. I am very impressed with how different Kingsolver's books are from one another — she really sets herself huge challenges when she could have stuck with her earlier, easier and very popular style. This one was very ambitious, and had important things to say, but also, in spite of how long it took, by the end I was very connected to the main characters, and also very moved. Not for everyone, obviously, but I was glad I stayed with it. I know some people find her too preachy, and I understand why, but with me she's preaching to the choir, so I guess I'm a real Barbara Kingsolver fan.

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