Bestselling British author Patrick Gale chronicles the misadventures of a misfit tree surgeon in this “modern-day myth of self-discovery” (The Guardian).
It was in the ancient cathedral city of Barrowcester that eight-year-old Lawrence Frost began his love affair with the trees that had “sprung up on the site of an ancient plague grave and unconsecrated resting place for the city’s outcasts.” And it is there that the thirty-two-year-old forester and arborist returns one night, after sleeping out in his truck in his beloved Wumpett Woods, to find blood staining the kitchen sink and floor of his farmhouse—his wife and daughter gone.
Lawrence is suspected of beating his wife, Bonnie, for cheating on him with an American architect. It appears Bonnie and their daughter, Lucy, have done the sensible thing and fled. But when a corpse turns up, burned beyond recognition, the police decide to comb Wumpett Woods in search of a second body. Soon Lawrence is branded a murderer and arrested.
Then Bonnie and Lucy turn up alive, and Lawrence is cleared. But he has lost his family. He takes a five-hundred-passenger cruise on the SS Paulina, where a chanteuse of a certain age—and uncertain gender—captivates him. Lawrence begins a new journey, a spiritual and erotic odyssey that takes him back to the buried secrets of his past and then onward toward the future.
From the English provinces to the Caribbean to America—and the giant redwoods of northern California—filled with Shakespearean twists and turns and happy coincidences, Tree Surgery for Beginners is a sprawling, Dickensian carnival of a book. With multiple viewpoints and cameo appearances that include a vacillating tiger, it sweeps readers along as Lawrence himself learns to move forward.
By turns moving and tragic, this is a triumphant novel of growth, love, and healing from the bestselling author of Notes from an Exhibition.
A curious transatlantic pastoral about a shadowy woodcutter accused of murdering his wife, English author Gale's eighth novel (after Cat Sanctuary) repays careful reading with its themes of organic growth, dismemberment and integration, culminating in a healing denouement. Lawrence Frost, raised in the British cathedral town of Barrowcester by his single mother, grows up as a solitary child who prefers the company of trees to people. He finally finds happiness with landscape gardener Bonnie and their baby daughter, Lucy. But on evidence of her affair with American architect Craig McBride, he abuses Bonnie so severely that one evening she disappears. Unknown to Lawrence, she has fled to America. When a gruesomely battered body--presumably Bonnie's--is found in the nearby woods, Lawrence is accused of murder. Although he is soon exonerated (the identity of the murdered woman will provide a shock later in the story), Lawrence has a breakdown and knows he must move on to stay sane. Aboard a ship to the Caribbean and in his later wanderings on the way to Northern California, he meets a mysterious older woman who alternates identities: she is variously torch singer Lala and heiress Serena Merle. Despite the jolt of the initial murder descriptions, Gale's story develops with such subtlety that the workings of Lawrence's healing process must be taken on faith. Gale fashions a patient, worthy transformation as Lawrence develops from a boy who does not understand his whole self (especially the violent extremes) to a man whose work as a tree surgeon is a metaphor for the growth of his soul and his family.