Eleanor Catton: Birnam Wood


Birnam Wood is an activist collective in the Lake Korowai area of  New Zealand. The two principals, Mira Bunting and Shelley Noakes, are friends and ecological rebels in a comfortable mid-class village way. Bunting is the risk taker and the strident of the two. She likes to ‘borrow’ peoples land to do the groups guerilla plantings of food for their own use. Noakes who hates to be disliked, is the consoling side-kick who apologizes with a wincing face to those whom Bunting upsets. She handles the website and administration tasks, and keeps things sorted.

Bunting is scouting land at a farm in Thorndike when she comes across Robert Lemoine at the property’s landing strip. Lemoine is an American billionaire that she’s never heard of; she doubts anyone in the town has heard of. An interesting conversation ensues that has Bunting cautious but intrigued and Lemoine calculating.

A master at manipulation and dominance Lemoine likes to play with peoples lives. He’s always looking for the advantage and thinks he’s found it in the Birnam Wood collective. He’s buying the farm of Sir Owen Darvish who was recently knighted for his efforts in monitoring wildlife that is under threat. With a business agreement in place, as part of the farm purchase, Sir Owen will be using drone technology from Autonomo, Lemoine’s company. Meantime, he’s told Lemoine to make use of the farm as he wishes until the deal is sealed. It all seems quite well tied-in doesn’t it.

Lemoine stated reason for buying the property is to build a doomsday bunker on the farm. There is security everywhere which is not unexpected given his wealth. But a former member of the collective Tony Gallo, a desperate reporter seeking redemption and acclaim, is looking into things. This whole land deal may be something, it may be nothing, but it reeks of wrongness.

This is a book of acts, repercussions, and temerity as each work through their own intentions and desires. It’s quite the psychological sojourn. A slow build for the first twenty per cent but well worth the effort.

~ June Lorraine Roberts

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