Eleanor Catton's new book: Billionaire survivalists and guerrilla gardeners

by Russell Baillie / 15 March, 2017
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Eleanor Catton. Photo/David White

The Man Booker Prize-winner's forthcoming novel will be less than half the length of The Luminaries.​

Eleanor Catton’s next novel will be a tale of guerrilla gardening and the world’s rich using New Zealand as a bolthole.

To be titled Birnam Wood, the book is described as a psychological thriller set in a remote part of New Zealand where rich foreigners have armed themselves in fortress-like homes in anticipation of a global catastrophe.

The book takes its name from the “guerrilla gardening squad” at the centre of the story – “a ragtag group of quarrelling leftists who move about the country cultivating other people's land”, says a statement from Victoria University Press which has bought the New Zealand rights to the book.

The group’s encounter with an American billionaire sparks a tragic sequence of events “which questions, ultimately, how far each of us would go to ensure our own survival – and at what cost.”

In a November interview with Paperboy, Catton hinted at the survivalist and environmentalist themes of the book.

“I find survivalists very tiresome. I think there is a lot of misanthropy in a lot of environmentalism that I find really grates on me. I don’t like the stance that human beings are evil, and this kind of arrogance that you’re going to be the one who survives, and lord it over all the stupid people.”

VUP published Catton’s debut novel The Rehearsal and her 2013 Man Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries.

Catton’s book has been sold on outline with Granta, which published The Luminaries in Britain and Australia acquiring the rights for those territories again.

Birnam Wood is due to be delivered to the publishers at the end of this year, with a proposed length of 80,000-100,000 words. The Luminaries, which Catton has been adapting for a television series, was nearly 270,000 words.

The new novel’s plot seems timely with reports of wealthy Americans like billionaire and Trump advisor Peter Thiel buying land in New Zealand’s southern lakes areas and a rise in applications for NZ citizenship by American migrants.

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