Friday, 3 March 2017

Broadway Book Club Discussion of The Trees, by Ali Shaw

Feelings were mixed about the four main characters. Adrien generally got a bit of a roasting about his uselessness, his idleness, about how he was basically the walking embodiment of Male Privilege, the thing that was most annoying was how little he changed throughout the book. He was boring and cumbersome, and we were all baffled why the group put up with him. Hannah was more likable, a bit naive and we thought the Hippy earth child thing was a bit overdone. She had the most interesting crisis of faith, but still remained mostly unchanged by it as a character. Hiroko was generally well liked, but we felt she was a bit of a Asia-Ice-Queen stereotype, and that she would’ve been much better going solo survivalist rather than letting her crown hold her back. Seth liked computers. That’s about it.

We were generally disappointed in the narrative. One person commented that Hannah would be better off “Foraging for a plot” than the mushrooms she seemed so keen on. They go to the Welsh coast. They cross to Ireland. They encounter a makeshift settlement ran by an unpleasant man named Roland and find Adrien’s wife Michelle, who he has been half-heartedly looking for. That’s it. There’s a Sea hunk called Eoin that builds a boat in a day, a few mythical creatures and whispery tree monsters that unnerve Adrien periodically. There are many, many descriptions of the “Throne Chair”, which gets quite repetitive.

One member com
mented that while she understands that the point of the book was to show the savage indifference of nature, there was a lot of gratuitous gore that did nothing to further the plot or mood. Another refuted this to say that there wasn’t enough gore to warrant the Tarrantino name drop on the cover. I think we all expected more human on human violence, more Lord of the Flies power struggles and the rottenness of human nature taking over. Not much of that to be seen. There was no threat, no real effort to rebuild. What happened in the cities? Were there any survivalist cults that adapted too well to the new Earth? Are there trees in the deserts? It just left too many questions unanswered.


We were particularly offended and incredulous at Adrien’s transformation into “Father Nature” at the end. It seemed out of character for him to make such a sacrifice, as well as unusual of him to surmise a solution to any kind of predicament presented to him. We though his guiding hand on nature, helping Hannah find strawberries in winter was frankly ridiculous.

We concluded that The Trees probably wishes it was Station Eleven, an excellent end of the world book that shows little pockets of survival rebuilding after a global contagion, how stories are endlessly human and how tyranny and violence will always be inevitable, but that there are different ways to live, if you keep looking. The Trees tried, but it was a disappointing pile of soggy leaves. It had such a promising, interesting concept, but was let down by its lack of plot, its unsophisticated handling of the “We are bad to the Earth” message and the too-frequent dropping in of a character (Pharmacy man, camper van woman, Vicar) to deliver a message of doom about out abuse of the planet and then disappear forever.

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