A Best Book of the Year (So Far) at The New Yorker, The BBC, Vulture, CrimeReads
A Barack Obama Summer Reading Pick
“[A] savagely satirical thriller.” —People
The Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries brings us Birnam Wood, a gripping thriller of high drama and kaleidoscopic insight into what drives us to survive.
Birnam Wood is on the move . . .
A landslide has closed the Korowai Pass on New Zealand’s South Island, cutting oﬀ the town of Thorndike and leaving a sizable farm abandoned. The disaster presents an opportunity for Birnam Wood, an undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no one will notice. For years, the group has struggled to break even. To occupy the farm at Thorndike would mean a shot at solvency at last.
But the enigmatic American billionaire Robert Lemoine also has an interest in the place: he has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker, or so he tells Birnam’s founder, Mira, when he catches her on the property. He’s intrigued by Mira, and by Birnam Wood; although they’re poles apart politically, it seems Lemoine and the group might have enemies in common. But can Birnam trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust one another?
A gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its drama, Austenian in its wit, and, like both inﬂuences, fascinated by what makes us who we are. A brilliantly constructed study of intentions, actions, and consequences, it is a mesmerizing, unﬂinching consideration of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.
Booker winner Catton (The Luminaries) returns with a tragic eco-thriller of betrayed ideals and compromised loyalties involving a collective of guerilla gardeners in New Zealand. The group, Birnam Wood, sets its sights on a farm in Korowai National Park after a landslide maroons the isolated township of Thorndike, and three personalities vie for control. As matriarch Mira Bunting, 29, uses a series of aliases to scout and buy the land, her duplicity brings her into conflict with the younger Shelley Noakes, whose own beliefs are further strained by the return of ex-member Tony Gallo, a would-be journalist with an ax to grind regarding some of Birnam's rhetoric (in a scene of stellar dialogue, a group of members, all white and economically privileged, object to Tony's claims that intersectionality and polyamory are capitalist concepts). Mira's and Shelly's designs on the farm are complicated as they run afoul of Robert Lemoine, an amoral American billionaire suspected of murdering his wife, who has secretly purchased the land and agrees to fund Birnam Wood's occupation as a cover for his mining operation (Robert's work had caused the landslide, a detail he's trying to keep under wraps). As Mira plays into Robert's hands, Tony goes on the warpath, and their various schemes collide in a shocking crime. Catton injects granular details into her depiction of mining's impact on the land and those who tend to it, and she pulls a taut, suspenseful story from the tangle of vivid characters. Thanks to a convincing backdrop of ecological peril, Catton's human drama is made even more acute.
I gave up a third of the way through this book. Very little happens. Endless description of character introspection. Ponderous and just too slow.