The Trees

The Trees Book Cover The Trees
Ali Shaw
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In a world not unlike our own, oil sands, fracking, and a depleting ozone layer indicate a constant assault on the natural gifts that the human race takes for granted; gifts that people care about less than their next Facebook post and perfectly Instagrammable cup of coffee. What would happen if this world decided to fight back?

This is the world of Ali Shaw’s new novel, The Trees, where – overnight – the people of Britain find themselves under attack by Mother Nature and her elements that once provided shelter and sustenance. The trees show no mercy, shooting up through homes and their residents with wild abandon, taking over the landscape and cities without regard for the people inhabiting the smallest cottage or the grandest castle. Roads are replaced with forests, animals are free to roam and hunt in their extended woods, and people suddenly find themselves at the bottom of the food chain.

The story follows the journeys of Adrien (a rather hapless and hopeless man who feels he has been abandoned by his wife), and nature-lover Hannah and her technology-obsessed teenaged son Seb. This quirky group of characters all have their own motive for setting out among the ruins of civilization, but they are drawn together by the common goal of surviving in a world that makes most man versus nature themes look like a walk in the park. Along the way, they encounter Hiroko, a young girl from Japan whose unique survivalist talents appeal to the group, but whose stark independence and refusal to get close to anyone makes the others wary of her true nature.

The process is violent, unrelenting, and deadly; the writing is stunning.

I admit that post-apocalyptic novels are not often found on my reading list but, within the first few pages of Shaw’s writing, I was hooked. He describes the initial attack, where “The forest burst full-grown out of the earth, in booming uppercuts of trunks and bludgeoning branches. It rammed through roads and houses alike, shattering bricks and exploding glass. It sounded like a thousand trains derailing at once, squealings and jarrings and bucklings all lost beneath the thunderclaps of broken concrete and the cacophony of a billion hissing leaves. Up surged the tree trunks, up in a storm of foliage and lashing twigs that spread and spread and then, at a great height, stopped.” The process is violent, unrelenting, and deadly; the writing is stunning.

This is not Shaw’s first voyage into literary fantasy: his previous book The Girl With the Glass Feet follows Ida, who finds herself slowly turning into glass from the feet up, and The Man Who Rained, in which Elsa discovers a town where the weather can come to life. His themes are reminiscent of fairy tales, but with richer language and deliciously complex and compelling characters. The Trees challenges the reader to look at the state of humanity, of our natural world, and how the two are in constant battle with each other. We are asked to question our own response to a world of chaos, where humans are suddenly no longer in charge and where animals and organisms and dark forests are only the beginning of the troubles to come. Would our true nature be revealed, when our man-made laws are replaced with those that existed thousands of years ago? How many of us would quickly forget what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, when there’s no one left to tell us the difference?

The Trees is one of the best books I’ve read this year and is now one of my favourites. I devoured every page and on several occasions I flipped back to sections that were particularly powerful and haunting. I find myself walking through Riverdale Park a little faster now, and with a new sense of trepidation.

“And out of sight, on the highest of branches and in the most secret of hollows, stranger creatures went about their business.”

Comparative titles: Cormac McCarthy, The Road; Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

ali-shawAli Shaw grew up in Dorset and graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Literature. He has since worked as a bookseller and at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. His first novel, The Girl With Glass Feet, won the Desmond Elliot Prize, was shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. He is also the author of The Man Who Rained.

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