Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton [7/10]

Who could fail to admire The Luminaries, the complex blockbuster that launched Eleanor Catton onto the world literary stage (and accorded her a Booker)? Yet it was a novel that sometimes failed to ignite in the reader’s mind (that was certainly the case for me), and something of the same echoes in Birnam Wood, her new, far more supple thriller about ecological activism and billionaire shenanigans. Set in an unspecified remote part of New Zealand, the novel follows three members of Birnam Wood, a fascinating guerilla gardening group that spies an opportunity in a wealthy man’s country land suddenly isolated by a landslide; the gentry owner of the land and his wife; and the most interesting character of all, an uber-competent, super-smart, manipulative billionaire (think Peter Thiel or Ray Dalio) with enigmatic plans of his own for the land. The “thriller” aspect of the novel is surprisingly humdrum but halfway through Birnam Wood, I was powerfully reminded of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfires of the Vanities, a wonderful portrayal of a time and place populated by deep characters and overlaid by a servicable plot. Birnam Wood is likewise a novelistic excursion into our troubled times, and a worthy read indeed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *