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Birnam Wood

by Eleanor Catton


Oooo! This is good!! You’ll remember New Zealander, Eleanor Catton as the youngest author ever to win the Booker Prize for The Luminaries ten years ago.  Her new one, a literary thriller, is about a guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no-one will notice.  Brazen, anti-establishment, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic, the group goes by the name of Birnam Wood – a delicious reference to the downfall of MacBeth.  This idealistic group of young people all grappling with life’s big issues –  Identity politics, intersectionality, morality, privilege, entrenched power, propaganda, capitalism, good and evil and everything in between – aim to “develop and protect a classless, environmentally sustainable, direct-democratic economy that is both regenerative and responsive to human need; to operate as much as possible outside a capitalist framework and to practice solidarity and mutual aid

A natural disaster presents Birnam Wood with an amazing opportunity.  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, perfect for their project. 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- and makes them an irresistible financial offer that goes against all their philosophies and ideals. Can Birnam Wood trust him? And, as their ideologies are tested, can they trust one another?

A brilliantly constructed study of intentions, actions, and consequences, with a nod to Shakespeare. It’s a gripping read …a mesmerizing, unflinching study of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.

Birnam Wood is terrific. As a multilayered, character-driven thriller, it’s as good as it gets. Ruth Rendell would have loved it. A beautifully textured work—what a treat. – Stephen King

A generational cri de coeur . . . A sophisticated page-turner . . . Birnam Wood nearly made me laugh with pleasure. The whole thing crackles . . . Greta Gerwig could film this novel, but so could Quentin Tarantino. – The New York Times

A sleek contemporary thriller . . . [Birnam Wood] dramatizes political, technical and environmental crises with such delicious wit. – The Washington Post

A rare accomplishment: an intelligent and elegant thriller that is also a damn fine read. – The Economist

Complex and often shocking . . . Birnam Wood’s biggest twist is not so much a particular event as the realization that this is a book in which everything that people choose to do matters, albeit not in ways they may have anticipated. Catton has a profound command of how perceptions lead to choice, and of how choice, for most of us, is an act of self-definition. –  The New Yorker

[A] virtuoso performance: elaborately plotted, richly conceived, enormously readable. –  The Guardian

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