Thursday, February 23, 2023

Review: Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: March 7th, 2023
Hardcover. 432 pages.

About Birnam Wood:

"Birnam Wood is on the move . . .

Five years ago, Mira Bunting founded a guerrilla gardening group: Birnam Wood. An undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic gathering of friends, this activist collective plants crops wherever no one will notice: on the sides of roads, in forgotten parks, and neglected backyards. For years, the group has struggled to break even. Then Mira stumbles on an answer, a way to finally set the group up for the long term: a landslide has closed the Korowai Pass, cutting off the town of Thorndike. Natural disaster has created an opportunity, a sizable farm seemingly abandoned.

But Mira is not the only one interested in Thorndike. Robert Lemoine, the enigmatic American billionaire, has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker--or so he tells Mira when he catches her on the property. Intrigued by Mira, Birnam Wood, and their entrepreneurial spirit, he suggests they work this land. But can they trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust each other?

I've been seeing more and more eco-thrillers pop up these days, and although it's not always a category I'm overly drawn to, I have to say that Eleanor Catton's eco-thriller has really nailed it. If you're looking for compelling characters, thoughtful and thought-provoking discussions, and a plot that just keeps twisting and giving readers more, then you might want to stick around and find out a bit more about Birnam Wood

Birnam Wood is actually a very hard book to summarize because it's many different things at once. It's a story about an environmental activist collective–Birnam Wood–whose main act is guerilla gardening, or the planting of various crops in random places, some of which may belong to other people. This collective is not exactly failing, but it's not exactly thriving either and members are looking for ways to grow their reach and impact. It's also a story about different characters going through various life transitions and trying to find their place and their worth in the world, as well as figure out what they really stand for. It's also a much bigger story about politics, the environment, types of government, when it's okay to compromise and when it's not, and what it means to be a human in today's modern age. All this is to say that there's a lot going on in this story, but it's also very readable and fairly easy to follow along with. 

We start off following Mira Bunting and Shelley, both members of Birnam Wood trudging along with their lives, and eventually meet up with Tony Gallo, a former member who has been away studying abroad for the past couple years and is now back in town. We also meet Robert Lemoine, an American billionaire who has a very unique interest in a specific area in New Zealand where Birnam Wood has decided to move in on. Each of these four characters were given vibrant, full-fleshed out personalities and motivations for just about every action they undertake in this story. I really feel as though I got to know each and every character, and I enjoyed watching them navigate all the unique situations that arose throughout the progression of this story. I also particularly liked watching each character interact with one another, as each relationship was very unique, precise, and had some key elements at play that made each one compelling to watch develop. 

There are some big crime/thriller elements in this story, though I wouldn't describe it as being a cut and dry thriller novel. This is more a mix of what I would call a literary style with some heavy mystery elements that really helped to push the plot along. If you've read Catton's The Luminaries, then you might be familiar with this type of mystery mixed with character study and literary style. It works extremely well for the story and I think is what prevents it from ever feeling too slow while also providing reason for the excessive attention to detail present throughout Catton's prose. 

Birnam Wood has all of Catton's trademark style. If I hadn't known this book was written by Eleanor Catton, I would've been able to figure out from page one due to her trademark style. It's a very long-winded, almost stream-of-consciousness writing style that I think fans of Donna Tartt (particularly The Goldfinch) would enjoy, or if you've read Catton's The Luminaries. I was immediately transported into Catton's narrative via her sharp voice and attention to detail. If you like reading narratives that feature a character basically talking nonstop for a long amount of time without a break, or narrative voices that seem to keep rambling on in a way that has a clear train of thought, but is quite long and meandering at times as well, then this is the book for you. 

Overall, I've given Birnam Wood four stars! This was an incredibly engaging story that covered a lot of really interesting discussion points about environmentalism, morality, capitalism, and much more. If you're looking for a longer story to really sink into where you can really get to know characters and consider some interesting topics, then I highly recommend you check this one out. 

*I received a copy of Birnam Wood courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

1 comment:

  1. I've never read this author but I think I would like her books! I am a big Donna Tartt fan😁