Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Swamplandia!

This is a haunting, spellbinding work that transforms an uninviting swamp into an eerie, myth-laced mural.

Karen Russell's debut novel opens with a clash of premises: Hilola Bigtree, bathed in starlight before her adoring daughter, dives off a platform to swim with a congregation of alligators. As far as traditional romantic tropes go, Russell's melodic descriptions of a swamp-dwelling, gator-wrestling family in decline certainly redefine the themes of dysfunctionality, misplaced spiritualism and fragile dreams. They also won her a place on the long list for the 2011 Orange Prize. 

Swamplandia! unfolds through the eyes of 13-year-old Ava Bigtree after her mother Hilola's death. Although determined to step up to the now- vacant position of star attraction at the family's crumbling gator-themed park, she also has to contend with her aloof father, an older sister immersed in the world of Ouija boards, and her brother's defection to a rival business. 

Bright without being precocious, Ava's engaging narrative is proof of Russell's undoubted talent as a storyteller. This is a haunting, spellbinding work that transforms an uninviting swamp into an eerie, myth-laced mural.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National