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Fiction Psychological

Birnam Wood

A Novel

by (author) Eleanor Catton

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2023
Psychological, Nature & the Environment, Psychological
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2023
    List Price

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Shortlisted for the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Shortlisted for the 2023 Kirkus Prize
From the Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood is an electrifying eco-thriller grounded in a provocative and sly exploration of some of the most pressing issues of our times. An international bestseller. Named a Best Book of the Year by the New York Times, Time, Kirkus Reviews, The Washington Post, and Apple Books Canada. One of Barack Obama's 2023 Summer Reading List titles.

Birnam Wood is on the move . . . 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. The disaster has created an opportunity for Birnam Wood, an unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no one will notice.

For years, the group has struggled to break even. Then Mira, Birnam Wood’s founder, stumbles on an answer: occupying the farm at Thorndike would mean a shot at solvency at last. But Mira is not the only one interested in Thorndike. The enigmatic American billionaire Robert Lemoine has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker, or so he tells Mira when he catches her on the property. Intrigued by Mira and Birnam Wood, he makes them an offer that would set them up for the long term. But can they trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust one another?

Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its drama, Austenian in its wit, and, like both influences, fascinated by what makes us who we are. It is an unflinching look at the surprising consequences of even our most well-intended actions, and an enthralling consideration of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.

About the author


  • Short-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize
  • Short-listed, Kirkus Prize

Contributor Notes

Eleanor Catton is the author of the international bestseller The Luminaries, winner of the Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. Her debut novel, The Rehearsal, won the First Novel Award, the Betty Trask Award, and the NZ Society of Authors’ Best First Book Award, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize, and longlisted for the Orange Prize. As a screenwriter, she adapted The Luminaries for television, and Jane Austen’s Emma for feature film. Born in London, Ontario, and raised in New Zealand, she now lives in Cambridge, England.

Editorial Reviews

Shortlisted for the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Named one of Time’s Best Books of 2023
Named one of Apple iBooks’ Best Books of 2023

“Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood is a rare gem, a novel that is a page-turning thriller and a weighty exploration of climate catastrophe and capitalism. Catton weaves a tale of unlikely allies: an idealistic crew of guerrilla gardeners and an inscrutable doomsteading billionaire. This is a satire about political and generational divides that pokes gentle fun at the characters’ foibles, exposing the hypocrisy on all sides. Catton has her finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist and the novel is aptly riven with anxiety. Online surveillance, income inequality, natural disasters, ecological collapse—whatever keeps you up at night, it’s all here. But at its heart, this is a book about friendship and all the ways we try and fail, and try again, to care for each other. With Birnam Wood, Eleanor Catton has penned an instant classic.”
—Giller Prize jury citation

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

Birnam Wood is a dark and brilliant novel about the violence and tawdriness of late capitalism. Its ending, though, propels it from a merely very good book into a truly great one.”
The Guardian

“Catton deftly constructs a political and environmental universe that has broadly capitulated to corruption, where individuals absentmindedly microdose poison each day until they are doomed.”

“[A] wildly exciting contemporary thriller….mischievously comic….you really do read the last one hundred and fifty pages of Birnam Wood with your pulse racing and your heart thumping.”
The Telegraph (starred review)

“Catton’s gift for interiority is mind-bending. There were many times reading the novel that I felt, with a mix of wonder and pure squirm, that my very outline was being traced with Catton’s subtle knife….Catton’s prose brings to mind Austen and Woolf and Mantel. She is among that echelon of literary mastery. Her sentences are the stuff of dreams: of ten-course degustations that give you the satisfaction of home cooking at its finest. In Catton’s hands the descent into character is so complete, so startlingly multi-dimensional, that the ride cannot help but be exhilarating and entirely consuming.”
The Spinoff

“It’s [Catton’s] exploration and insight into the psyches of the characters that really cements [Birnam Wood] as a great book—a ripping, character-driven, ideas-laden yarn.”

“This is a deeply enjoyable, action-packed book, an accomplished new offering in the expanding literary sub-genre of ‘cli-fi’….it’s the mark of Catton’s exceptional storytelling that she won’t let us work out which side Birnam Wood will fall—until the very end.”
Financial Times

“[A] subtle, sometimes acerbically comic and ultimately tragic novel of great sensitivity….Catton has taken her time, and it shows.”
Spectator Australia

“Catton has substantial things to say and an observational heft that places this novel among the best of climate fiction. But it’s also a total, bloody romp.”
The Monthly

Birnam Wood is a tightening noose of cause and consequence, and a lucid environmental novel that investigates the uncomfortable spaces where protest melds into branding, and collectivist idealism crashes up against bare-knuckled capitalism. Who knew climate fiction could be this fun?"
—Michael Christie, author of Greenwood

“Mysterious and marvellously unpredictable, Birnam Wood had me reading the way I used to as a kid—curiously, desperately, and as if it was the whole world. Eleanor Catton connects to the natural and unnatural ways in which we try to control our environments, our impulses, and one another. A spectacular novel, conjured by a virtuoso.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

“A filmic and page-turning thriller. Hubris and ambition, vanity and greed, principle and expediency, courage and hope—all are here, but not necessarily where you expect to find them.”
—Carys Davies, author of The Mission House

“If George Eliot had written a thriller, it might have been a bit like this.”
—Francis Spufford, author of Light Perpetual

Birnam Wood is electric: a spectacular book. It has the pace and bite of a thriller. It has an iron-willed morality. It feels like the product of astonishing skill, and formidable love. It’s literally, physically breathtaking.”
—Katherine Rundell, author of Super-Infinite

“As saturated with moral scrutiny and propulsive plotting as 19th-century greats; it’s a twisty thriller via Charles Dickens, only with drones. But where Dickens, say, revels in exposing moral bankruptcy, Catton is more interested in the ways everyone is cloudy-eyed with their own hubris in different ways. The result is a story that’s suspended on a tightrope just above nihilism, and readers will hold their breath until the last page to see whether Catton will fall. This blistering look at the horrors of late capitalism manages to also be a wildly fun read.”
Kirkus Review (STARRED REVIEW)

"Catton pulls a taut, suspenseful story from the tangle of vivid characters. Thanks to a convincing backdrop of ecological peril, Catton’s human drama is made even more acute."
Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW)

“Features vivid characters . . . and sharp, sizzling dialogue. . . .Birnam Wood is tightly wound and psychologically thrilling, and Catton’s fans and readers new to her powers will savor it to the end.”

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