Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton 

Read Time:3 Minute, 21 Second

The Korowai Pass on New Zealand’s South Island is now inaccessible due to a recent landslide, cutting off Thorndike town and leaving a once-prosperous farm abandoned. However, this disaster provides an opportunity for Birnam Wood, a guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever there are no prying eyes. Despite struggling to make ends meet for years, occupying the farm in Thorndike could finally help the group achieve solvency. But their plans are jeopardized by an unexpected rival. Robert Lemoine, a mysterious American billionaire, has taken an interest in the land and claimed it for his own end-times bunker.

Book review of Birnam Wood

Birnam Wood is a fascinating environmental thriller that explores the complex relationships between guerilla gardeners and big industry. The book is named after a small non-profit organization whose mission is to cultivate unused land and help those in need. However, their newest venture involving a billionaire named Robert Lemoine, who is buying a large swath of land to build a doomsday bunker, tests their morals and principles.

The novel is populated with flawed individuals whose ambitions prove hard to balance with their morals. The four main characters, Mira, Shelley, Tony, and Robert, are all compelling in their own way. Mira and Shelley’s complicated relationship is a central theme of the novel, as Shelley wants to move out of Mira’s shadow and pursue her own ambitions.

Tony, an aspiring journalist, returns to the Birnam Wood fold after being abroad for a few years and is appalled by the group’s newest venture, which he believes goes against all their principles. But, he leaves the group and sets out to find as much as he can about Robert Lemoine.

Robert Lemoine is a fascinating character, and we don’t know how he got so rich or exactly how he acquired his particular skill set. He meets Mira by accident and immediately gives her permission to farm part of the land he is buying. Furthermore, he philanthropically gives her a lot of money immediately.

The novel’s plot is both thought-provoking and riveting, and it would make for an excellent discussion about both morals and the characters involved. Also, the book starts with beautiful, long sentences meandering through the protagonists’ minds and actions. Another key point is the plot: it is really intriguing. Finally, the characters are authentic, although not always likable. At the story’s end, the reader is immersed in it and flies through the last chapter.

Above all, Birnam Wood is a cautionary tale, pointing out the difficult relations between big industry and environmentalists. The future of this fragile connection, especially considering how much people could differ in their motives and how deceitful or simply evil they can be, can quickly become Apocalypse.

Final verdict:

In conclusion, Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood is an outstanding environmental thriller that explores the complex relationships between guerilla gardeners and big industry. The characters are authentic, and the plot is intriguing and thought-provoking. The book is a cautionary tale that warns us of the dangerous relations between big industry and environmentalists. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves thought-provoking thrillers.

Our Score


  • Complex and exciting plot: The novel’s plot is filled with accidents, deceptions, and cross-purposes that keep readers engaged and interested throughout the book.
  • Authentic characters: The characters in the novel are flawed and nuanced, making them realistic and relatable.
  • Thought-provoking themes: The book raises important questions about morality, ambition, and the relationship between big industry and environmentalism.


  • Slow pacing: Some readers may find the book’s slow pacing tedious, particularly in the beginning.
  • Disliked characters: While the characters are authentic, some readers may find them unlikeable or difficult to relate to.
  • Uninspired writing: The writing style may not be for everyone, as it is described as journalistic and lacking in descriptive imagery.
Birnam WoodPublisher ‏ : ‎ Farrar, Straus and Giroux (March 7, 2023)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 432 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0374110336
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0374110338
Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.4 pounds
Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches

About Article Author

Jenna Carter

Jenna Carter spends most of her time immersed in the imaginary worlds that authors construct. Her favorite place in the world is a library full of old books where she hopes to one day find a hidden door to the world of Narnia.
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