Life was pretty busy, so apologies for the radio silence. I bring you a new review to make up for it.
Publishing year: 2016
Genre: Magical realism, apocalyptic
One downside of working in a bookshop is that cover buys are likely to happen, especially if you’re unpacking or shelving books. This was most certainly the case for The Trees. A face of a fox made of leaves certainly caught my eye. This, along with the blurb on the back, made me purchase it by the end of my shift.
The Trees takes place in England for the most part, where trees suddenly spout from the ground, destroying houses, streets, and human lives in the process. The people who didn’t get skewered on tree branches are faced with the instant collapse of society and have to survive in an unfamiliar world. Protagonist Adrien Thomas is one of the survivors, and he is quite overwhelmed by the sudden change. Luckily, he meets nature-loving Hannah and her son Seb. Together, they set out to find Adrian’s wife, who was in Ireland for work at the time. The forest seems to go on forever, though, and they not only have to face the cruelty of nature, but also their own demons.
To be fair, Adrian is not a protagonist I’d normally like. He is passive, prone to self-pity and tends to give up easily. He is well aware of his faults, which is an unending source of self-loathing for him. When the trees first arrive, he clings to the idea that help will arrive and would be content to wait it out in his comfortable armchair. He meets Hannah and Seb by chance, and it’s fear that eventually propels him to join them. Still, Adrian managed to be a sympathetic character that I was rooting for, which paid off in his character development. Though he doesn’t become some assertive, ambitious leader (that would have been weird), he does grow as a person and ends up doing things by the end of the novel that he wouldn’t have done at the beginning.
Hannah and Seb also grow throughout the book. Though Hannah is initially thrilled with the coming of the trees, she is eventually faced with how cruel nature can be which forces her to come to terms with her views on nature. Seb initially starts out as a somewhat sullen teenager who is robbed of a life that was primarily defined by technology, but he really comes into his own. Eventually, the trio also meet the Japanese schoolgirl Hiroko, who had been on a school trip at the time of the trees arriving and has some formidable survival skills. Finally, there is the fox kit Yasuo, who is adorable. The Trees also introduces some antagonists, but they all have a human quality to them.
Speaking of qualities, the endless forest is not simply a collection of trees providing a stage for the cruelty of nature. There is a certain mystical aspect to the forest as well. It tends to change paths or direct the people wandering among the trees. It has hallucinatory qualities that are never quite fully explained, allowing the woods to remain mysterious and sometimes even eerie. The woods also cause the Kirin appear, who act like some sort of guide, and the whisplike Whisperers, whose purpose remains unknown for a large part of the novel. Even though The Trees is mostly apocalyptic with significant character building, the woods and the new creatures give it also a fairytale-like quality, albeit a very dark one. Nature is not only cruel, but also beautiful, and the two go hand in hand.
This brings me to the one negative point. Though the purpose of the Whisperers is revealed, and their presence looms over the narrative and the characters (or, more signficantly, Adrien), I feel a bit more could have been done with them or the mysterious eeriness of the woods. Regardless, The Trees is a character-driven novel with a lot of atmosphere and some beautiful and heartwarming scenes. It’s not as creepy or action-driven as most apocalyptic fiction, but if you don’t mind this is definitely worth a shot.