In Act 1 of Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth questions his plan to commit regicide towards King Duncan, saying, “I’ve no spur / To prick the perimeters of my intent, however solely / Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself / And falls on th’different.” Vaulting ambition and the willful blindness that may accompany it type the tragedy of Birnam Wooden, Eleanor Catton’s third novel and the follow-up to her 2013 Booker Prize winner, The Luminaries.
The Birnam Wooden of the title refers to not the Scottish city of the play however to an activist collective in New Zealand whose members harvest crops planted “with out permission on public or unattended lands.” The group’s founder, Mira Bunting, has an idealistic objective: “radical, widespread, and lasting social change” that reveals “how arbitrary and absurdly prejudicial the complete idea of land possession” is. However there’s an issue: The collective has hassle breaking even.
A potential resolution arrives within the type of a pure catastrophe, when earthquakes result in a landslide, inflicting the closure of the Korowai Move and chopping off the small fictional city of Thorndike. Not removed from the location of the landslide is a farm owned by the soon-to-be-knighted Owen Darvish. Paradoxically, Owen’s pest management service has partnered with American tech company Autonomo on a conservation undertaking to rescue endemic species from extinction. Mira’s plan: purchase the farm for Birnam Wooden.
In each of her novels, Catton has proven that she’s an knowledgeable at constructing rigidity from an intricate plot. One of many complicating elements in Birnam Wooden is Autonomo co-founder Robert Lemoine, “a serial entrepreneur, a enterprise capitalist, and, apparently, a billionaire.” He needs to construct a bunker on the farm and retailer valuable cargo that may make him, “by a number of orders of magnitude, the richest one who had ever lived.” When he catches Mira on the property, he suggests they be a part of forces, however in true Shakespearean vogue, Robert’s intent is probably not what he claims.
Catton brilliantly weaves different characters and plot parts into the combo, amongst them Tony Gallo, a former collective member and would-be journalist who rails towards capitalism, needs to write down “a searing indictment of the super-rich” and is eager to reveal Robert for who he’s. Tony is simply too broadly drawn, and Catton typically over-explains the plot, however Birnam Wooden continues to be a strong portrait of the uncomfortable relationship between capitalism and idealism, and the compromises and trade-offs one would possibly settle for in pursuit of a objective. As a few of Catton’s characters study, vaulting ambition could be admirable, but when one o’erleaps and falls, the touchdown is something however clean.
Correction, March 7, 2023: This text has been up to date to replicate that Birnam Wooden is Catton’s third novel and The Luminaries is her second.