Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Trees by Ali Shaw


This is the first book on my Summer 2016 Reading List and I will admit that I primarily chose to read it first because look at that cover!  It's just gorgeous and I adore foxes.  Anyway, on with the review!


When trees erupt from the earth, toppling society and destroying the modern world overnight, Adrien Thomas is understandably terrfied.  Adrien is the heart of the story, although often the reader may wonder why, when there are other far more engaging and interesting characters surrounding him.  Adrien befriends Hannah, a hippy who sees the trees as a blessing allowing humanity to start again, and her son Seb, who is really missing his computer, but adapts to the world well enough.  Later they encounter the bad-ass Hiroko, as they travel to find Hannah's brother, and later Adrien's wife, who was in Ireland on a business trip the night the trees came.  Every single character we encounter is altogther more capable to act as the protagonist and hero of the story, yet Adrien remains the focal point of the plot.  He is utterly dependent on the other characters for his survival.  Before the trees came he considered himself a waste of space, and his successful wife seems to have little reason to stay with him and his self-loathing and bouts of self-pity.  What's remarkable is that somehow, Adrien never irritated me.  He is aware of how much he needs those around him, and is very honest about his being with them just to give himself the purpose he is lacking.  The trees however, are determined to give Adrien as purpose of his own.

A supernatural element develops as the story continues, one which is never explained enough to satisfy me.  Creepy little tree creatures dog the travellers' steps, and the giant kirin appears to Hannah throughout the story to lead her to new places or new knowledge.  There is a constant sense of watchfulness with the possibility of danger at ay given time.  Often the travellers seem safe only to have everything overturned, and not always by supernatural creatures.  As in many apocalyptic settings, law and order have disintegrated, allowing people to take matters into their own hands; other survivors are often more dangerous than the trees.

While the mystery of the trees and their intentions for humanity and Adrien in particular is what drives the plot forward, the real strength of the story is Adrien himself.  He could have been utterly unlikeable and irritating, but instead he continues to support those around him in what small ways he can, and Shaw's slightly heavy handed symbolism reveals what the book is really about: strong men destroyed the world, and it will take a different touch for humanity to learn to live in their new one.

Overall this was a good read; it reminded me of The Buried Giant in that the supernatural elements of the story were secondary to the relationships and development of the characters.  I found the character of Hannah extremely irritating early on, but by the end I was invested in all of the main group.  I would have liked a little more explanation of the trees and the supernatural elements of the story, but the focus of the novel is humanity's reaction to a new world, so I understand why it was omitted. 



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