Book Review: Greenwood by Michael Christie


About the Book:

2038. On a remote island off the Pacific coast of British Columbia stands the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral, one of the world’s last forests. Wealthy tourists flock from all corners of the dust-choked globe to see the spectacle and remember what once was. But even as they breathe in the fresh air and pose for photographs amidst the greenery, guide Jake knows that the forest is dying, though her bosses won’t admit it.

1908. Two passenger locomotives meet head-on. The only survivors are two young boys, who take refuge in a trapper’s cabin in a forest on the edge of town. In twenty-six years, one of them, now a recluse, will find an abandoned baby — another child of Greenwood — setting off a series of events that will change the course of his life, and the lives of those around him.

Structured like the rings of a tree, this remarkable novel moves from the future to the present to the past, and back again, to tell the story of one family and their enduring connection to the place that brought them together.

My Thoughts:

‘…green things are all that keeps the land and sky from trading places.’

I don’t read anywhere near the amount of eco-literature that I’d like, but I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to read more, not just new releases, but to also pull off the eco titles from my #tbr that have been there patiently waiting for their turn for far too long. Greenwood is a new release, and one that I was eager to read from the moment I heard of it. And wow, it did not disappoint, not even a little bit. Greenwood is a brilliant novel that demonstrates the ghastly effects of treating the environment as a commodity. This really is a novel for our times.

‘One is subject to much talk nowadays concerning family trees and roots and bloodlines and such, as if a family were an eternal fact, a continuous branching upwards through time immemorial. But the truth is that all family lines, from the highest to the lowest, originate somewhere, on some particular day. Even the grandest trees must’ve once been seeds spun helpless on the wind, and then just meet saplings nosing up from the soil.’

We begin in the year 2038, a mere 18 years into the future and the world is choked with dust, climate change having affected the balance of ecosystems to the dire point where the world’s forests have died off, with only a few small pristine pockets left, one of which is on Greenwood Island. We meet Jake, a botanist working as a forest guide, and she notices whilst on a tour that one of the oldest trees in the forest, well over a thousand years old, has begun to show signs of disease, the ‘Withering’ that caused the present day environmental catastrophe. I admire how the author explained the Withering and the way in which climate change can affect the balance of an ecosystem, in a manner like dominoes tipping over; this knocks into this, changing this, which in effect changes this and then this happens. When you present issues comprehensively, they instantly gain more plausibility, something I think is of great importance in this era, particularly with the loud and persistent voices of climate change deniers bleating in the background. To my mind, this is the time where well written and well researched fiction can be at its most powerful, and eco-literature has a real chance at raising awareness and affecting change at a grassroots level.

‘It’s a crime to burden the young with the sorrows of the old.’

From the future we move back into the past, inching back gradually through the generations, learning more and more about Jake’s family history – far more in fact, than even she knows. This is where the true brilliance of this novel evolves, as it morphs into a blend of eco-literature, historical fiction, and family saga. It’s a big book, but it holds its own right the way through, never stalling, always illuminating. Structurally, I loved it, the way it moved backwards to the beginning, only to then move forwards to the ending. Trees are vitally important within this story and within this family. The manner in which the author linked the two was spellbinding.

‘Every tree is held up by its own history, the very bones of its ancestors. And since the journal came to her, Jake has gained a new awareness of how her own life is being held up by unseen layers, girded by lives that came before her own. And by a series of crimes and miracles, accidents and choices, sacrifices and mistakes, all of which have landed her in this particular body and delivered her to this day.’

This novel illuminated me, broke me in parts, and gave me hope in others. It truly is a brilliant read and one that I’ll be recommending for years to come. It is, that which is most rare, a flawless novel.


Thanks is extended to Scribe for providing me with a copy of Greenwood for review.

About the Author:

Michael Christie is the author of the novel If I Fall, If I Die, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Kirkus Prize, was selected as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and was on numerous best of 2015 lists. His linked collection of stories, The Beggar’s Garden, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and won the Vancouver Book Award. His essays and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Globe and Mail. A former carpenter and homeless shelter worker, he divides his time between Victoria, British Columbia, and Galiano Island, where he lives with his wife and two sons in a timber-frame house that he built himself.

Published by Scribe
Released 4th February 2020

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Greenwood by Michael Christie

  1. Superb review! I’m adding this one. These days I admit I can be hesitant about picking up eco lit, simply because it can make me feel a little despairing, but the structure and scope of this sounds wonderful. Thank you! xo

    Liked by 1 person

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