This eco-thriller set in New Zealand’s South Island keeps ratcheting up the tension and culminating in a completely unexpected explosive ending. It’s such a worthy next novel after Catton’s brilliant first novel, The Luminaries, won the Booker Prize (she is the youngest author ever to have won) and you have to add this to your reading list as well!
This book starts slow, following a committed group of gardening activists who want to increase the use of the land for growing crops to feed the needy. To do so, they set up gardens in donated spaces, but they also frequently resort to guerilla tactics: secretly planting on private or public land without permission and stealing the gardening items they need. They’ve named themselves Birnan Wood, and frequently find themselves arguing among themselves about how to stay afloat financially and revisiting their core vision. Among them, there’s Mira the idealistic and perhaps unrealistic founder, Shelley her disillusioned second in command and roommate, and jaded Tony an earlier member who’s returned from abroad casting harsh critiques that the group has lost their way.
Mira heads out to scout a potential planting spot near Korowai National Park, where a recent landslide has shut the town down. While checking out a large farm that prior to the landslide had been slated for housing subdivisions, Mira stumbles upon American CEO-billionaire Robert who’s also scouting the property which he says he has bought for his doomsday survival bunker in the case of climate collapse. Charming Robert offers to give a grant of $100,000 to Birnam Wood if they set up a farming test pilot on the farm. Unbeknownst to Mira, the sale has not actually been completed.
With the evocative narrative continually shifting between the perspective main characters, tensions mount to edge-of-your-seat as underlying motives get uncovered, romantic sparks fly and lives become endangered.
Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux & NetGalley for an advanced reader’s copy.