Posted by: Ele Quigan | July 2, 2010

‘The Lacuna’ Barbara Kingsolver

It’s a weird moment when you finish the best book you’ve ever read. You start trawling back to anything else that you could compare your recent experience to, and send all the others away in a wash of “this is better”. (On my list has been ‘The Book Thief’, ‘Wild Swans’, ‘Watership Down’ and several others that probably will come to mind in the hours after I click “publish” on this blog entry…)

There’s a sense of disappointment, there’s a sense of glory, like you’ve found hidden treasure in a few pages and rush to share it with everyone you know. And sometimes a sense of ‘I just want to keep this moment all to myself before I share it with anyone else’.

Finishing the Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Lacuna’ was like that for me.

Il-Kil Cenote, beautifully shot by Pete Gibson

While I finished it in floods of tears, I instantly looked to find out more about the times covered (1930’s mexico, and 40’s/50’s McCarthyist America) wanting to know more about Frida, Trotsky, anti-communist sentiment. I wanted to find the places in Mexico they visited, to smell cilantro (coriander), lime and dog piss, to walk the markets, discover the cenotes – I wanted to imbue myself into their lives.

To come up with an analogy that fits, this book is like the first coffee of the morning for me. It’s something I always look forward to, I know it’s going to be rich, full, subtly sweet (I always have a spoon of sugar) but at times dark and bitter… If I try it too quickly I’ll get burnt (or finish it too soon, and miss the subtleties) but I can savour it as I drink it slowly. At time glorious, at times mysterious, at times something that is almost a religious experience (I do love my morning flat white).

‘Lacuna’ means something missing or a blank gap – which comes across in several areas of the book. From pieces of the protagonists life to the end, it’s an underlying theme that is never shaken from the outset.

I think I need to explain the story – or style – or even really explain the plot or protagonist in this review. for me, the subject matter was enough in the initial instance to hook me in, and even if I almost felt that the book started slowly, I felt that wonderful feeling when you realise that suddenly you’ve been pulled in without realising it and you can’t put it down.

I’ve read a few of Barbara Kingsolver’s books – from ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ to ‘Pigs in heaven’ she has a writing style that I really enjoy. More like literature rather than a straightforward novel. Always rich in story-telling and slowly the story unfolds to always an incredible and often unexpected climax.


I think one of the strongest parts to this story for me was Frida. Frida Kahlo is an artist I have always admired, and I attended an exibition dedicated to her work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art nearly 3 years ago. Her pain expressed through her paintings has always astounded me, and I’ve always felt like I wanted further insight to her life. One of the exibition pieces was a short film that showed her and Diego outside the Blue house (see below footage). The blue houseWhich is oft referred to in the book, and I’m ever more determined to go there (it’s now a Frida and Diego museum).

While it’s a fictionalised account of the time, I could feel the Frida in it. Some of her pain, but also her love, and almost shock at being seen as an artist, more than Diego’s wife. The rich colour and vibracy of her life shines through, and I’m now determined to go to Mexico and chase some of this vibracy for myself. Maybe it’s that London is making me feel ever more grey, but I want to follow this pull to Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza and see them and Mexico City for myself.

I picked up The Lacuna by seeing that it had won the Orange Prize which after being disappointed by Wolf Hall I was a bit unsure about going down the prize winner route again, but I’m so glad I still picked this up. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head for days, and am looking forward to the time where I get to relax over a rainy Sunday afternoon in Winter and read it over and over again



  1. What a fantastic review! The strength of your love for this book comes across really powerfully and I love the pictures. I wan’t a fan of The Lacuna and didn’t actually make it to the end, but I prefer books with a faster pace. The Lacuna does seem to divide people and I’m pleased that you managed to find a book that you love so much.

    • Thanks Jackie, it’s always a lovely moment when you find a book that you absolutely adore! Your blog is great, lots of excellent reviews – and great advice for book bloggers 🙂 looking forward to reading through your list and seeing what your comments are on books that I’ve read as well.

  2. […] The parenthesis and the footnote […]

  3. Thanks for the clip of Frida! She really was stunningly beautiful, regal, and utterly captivating wasn’t she? I also enjoyed Lacuna, and savoured it long after putting it down.

  4. I agree! She was so beautifully portrayed and such an inspiring character. Rarely has a book left such an impression on me – always glad to find other people who enjoyed it as much as I did!

  5. […] The Lacuna. I wrote about this a few years back – a book that totally took me by surprise, and probably assisted by having a glass or two of […]

  6. […] usually LOVE her books. ‘The Lacuna’ is the greatest book I’ve ever read. ‘The Poisonwood bible’ was one of my […]

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