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Book Review :: Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Eleanor Catton’s title, Birman Wood, should immediately make the reader think of Shakespeare’s Macbeth; however, Catton isn’t writing a contemporary retelling. That said, Catton’s characters have ambition and are willing to do what they need to do to achieve those ambitions, but the characters are more nuanced than in a typical tragedy. Mira has created Birnam Wood, a collective that legally (and not) plants crops in undeveloped areas, but is struggling to stay afloat and might suffer because of Mira’s ego. She meets Robert Lemoine—an American billionaire who has created the persona of a doomsday prepper to purchase land in New Zealand for which he has other, even-less-savory plans—and he agrees to help Mira fund a development on the land he has not quite purchased. Tony used to be a member of Birnam Wood, but he has been teaching overseas for the past several years and now wants a career in investigative journalism, so he sees a career-propelling story in Lemoine’s plans. Shelley has been working with Mira since Tony left, but she’s now considering leaving Birnam Wood, tired of Mira and of living on the margins. While the clearest tragedy in the novel is climate change—the moving of woods, in a different sense—there will be others, and, as in a Shakespearean drama, perhaps nobody is innocent.

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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