“The Trees. They arrived in the night: wrenching through the ground, thundering up into the air, and turning Adrien’s suburban street into a shadowy forest. Shocked by the sight but determined to get some answers, he ventures out, passing destroyed buildings, felled power lines, and broken bodies still wrapped in tattered bed linens hanging from branches.
It is soon apparent that no help is coming and that these trees, which seem the work of centuries rather than hours, span far beyond the town. As far, perhaps, as the coast, where across the sea in Ireland, Adrien’s wife is away on a business trip and there is no way of knowing whether she is alive or dead.
When Adrien meets Hannah, a woman who, unlike him, believes that the coming of the trees may signal renewal rather than destruction and Seb, her technology-obsessed son, they persuade him to join them. Together, they pack up what remains of the lives they once had and set out on a quest to find Hannah’s forester brother and Adrien’s wife–and to discover just how deep the forest goes.
Their journey through the trees will take them into unimaginable territory: to a place of terrible beauty and violence, of deadly enemies and unexpected allies, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness–and also the power–inside themselves.”
My Thoughts: The Trees is one of those novels that is difficult to define. The trees themselves bring the apocalyptic element. The journey Adrien, Hannah, and Seb take brings the adventure. Hannah’s penchant for nature stimulates plenty of philosophical discussions. There is a whole element of suspense as you wonder if Adrien will ever see his wife again. Then, there is the fantasy with magic and mythical beasts and an ancient creature that causes people to go insane upon seeing it. In other words, it is a weird genre mash-up of epic proportions.
Yet, it all works. This is in large part because of the characters, who are so rich and alive that they could be your friends or family. Plus, in a novel that takes place entirely within an old-growth forest that burst from the ground in one night, the setting is breath-taking. The descriptions are detailed and alive. You can feel the shadows play upon your skin and hear the leaves rustling. In addition, Mr. Shaw does not shy away from the more gruesome aspects of nature, which adds an air of realism to the otherworldly scenes. The vibrant descriptions and well-developed characters help ease any genre mashing.
The characters are fantastic. None of them are as one-sided as they initially appear to be. There are layers to each of them that Mr. Shaw peels back throughout the journey. By the end of the novel, one intimately knows all of the characters. You know their strengths and weaknesses, their desires and their shame. You love them and hate them each in turn and sometimes at the same time. It is easy to fall under each of their spells as their journey strips them bare of their past.
The fantasy elements are at first a bit odd. This is in part because they are so subtle. You almost have to go back over what you read to pick up on them at first. As they appear more often, you begin to wonder where Mr. Shaw is going with it all. (Indeed, I can see some readers still wondering that.) He brings all the pieces together quite well, and the conclusion of the story is satisfying. However, it is magical realism after all; does that stuff ever make total sense?
The Trees is a novel I enjoyed for the characters, their growth, and their adventures. I adored Mr. Shaw’s descriptions of the forest that now makes up the earth. I could even appreciate the fantasy thrown into the plot. I cannot say I entire understand it all, but I enjoyed it as just one piece of a much greater story. The Trees has a lot to say about the interdependence of humans and nature – an important discussion point as we see more and more signs of global warming – but never gets moralistic in its messaging. Given its size, I do not see this being a novel that makes it to the best sellers list; however, for the right reader, it will be one of those stories in which it is easy to lose yourself in the lush setting and engrossing story.