©2023 Fable Group Inc.

Birnam Wood

By Eleanor Catton
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton digital book - Fable

Why read on Fable?

Discover social reading

Chat inside the ebook with emojis, comments and more

Annotate with notes, tabs, and highlights

Share or keep your notes private with our annotation features

Support the World Literacy Foundation

We donate 20% of every book sale to help children learn to read

Publisher Description


A Best Book of the Year (So Far) at The New Yorker, The BBC, Vulture, CrimeReads
A Barack Obama Summer Reading Pick

“[A] savagely satirical thriller.” —People

The Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries brings us Birnam Wood, a gripping thriller of high drama and kaleidoscopic insight into what drives us to survive.

Birnam Wood is on the move . . .

A landslide has closed the Korowai Pass on New Zealand’s South Island, cutting off the town of Thorndike and leaving a sizable farm abandoned. The disaster presents an opportunity for Birnam Wood, an undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no one will notice. For years, the group has struggled to break even. To occupy the farm at Thorndike would mean a shot at solvency at last.

But the enigmatic American billionaire Robert Lemoine also has an interest in the place: he has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker, or so he tells Birnam’s founder, Mira, when he catches her on the property. He’s intrigued by Mira, and by Birnam Wood; although they’re poles apart politically, it seems Lemoine and the group might have enemies in common. But can Birnam trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust one another?

A gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its drama, Austenian in its wit, and, like both influences, fascinated by what makes us who we are. A brilliantly constructed study of intentions, actions, and consequences, it is a mesmerizing, unflinching consideration of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.

25 Reviews

“I just barely finished this book and truly believe that the first 65% could be condensed into fifty pages. I liked the overall premise of the book but the execution left much to be desired. While there was a lot of backstory, it simply failed to build fondness for characters or drive the story. Paragraphs were horribly long and I began to skip pages with of what felt like filler prose. I would have given one star, except that the ending truly surprised me.”
“Oh man, I intensely disliked this book. I’m not giving it 1 star because I do think the author has a lot of ideas that are interesting, but I found the writing very unpleasant. There is very little dialogue except for one notable and not fun exception in chapter 1. And there is so little action that it’s more like a book summary than a novel. It’s so much exposition and so little scene. And the characters are incredibly pretentious and unlikable. I feel like I would have been the audience for this book, so I’m sad that it was not a good experience for me.”
“Birnham Wood is a difficult book to describe. It is a drama. It is a character study. It is a thriller. It is about human character and relationships. It is about environmental carnage and greed. It is about the complex motivations behind special interest groups and their delicate relationship with private business sponsorship. It is timely and very of-the-moment. I will vastly oversimplify the plot as follows: a young group of environmental activists in New Zealand, calling themselves Birnham Wood, utilizes vacant spaces – empty lots, unused public grounds, etc. – to plant a variety of crops. They consider themselves a “guerrilla gardening collective” – demonstrating the effective use of land to produce natural foods for public consumption, and pushing back against the private ownership of land. Money, as it always is for special interest groups, is tight and the group lives hand-to-mouth. A landslide in the Korowai Pass mountain region closes a large area, including a former sheep farm called Thorndike, and this presents a golden opportunity for the group, with a large parcel of land going unused and relatively cut off. However this same chunk of land, bordering on a national park, has also caught the interest of a shrewd American billionaire, Robert Lemoine, who is negotiating a sale with the farm’s owners so that he can build an end-of-days bunker and bolt hole, or so he says. Can the two sides navigate their differences and occupy the same land? I was fascinated by the characters in this book – their public face versus private, their motivations and thought processes. Mira Bunting is the founder of Birnham Wood – wealthy, intelligent, arrogant, and idealistic yet conniving. Shelley Noakes is Mira’s right-hand person and a co-founder of the group, with a head for organization and logistics – clever, self-deprecating and disenchanted with Birnham Wood. Owen Darvish is the owner of Thorndike, and a caricature of the about-to-be-knighted, middle-aged white male who congratulates himself on his “self-made” success. Robert Lemoine is the charismatic, chill billionaire who created Autonomo, a drone tech company. He is a psychopath – charming, friendly, ruthless, manipulative and cold-blooded. There are so many quotable passages in this book, in particular social, economic and political commentary, with heavy doses of satire that made me chuckle. Catton’s comments on the generational divide were especially insightful and amusing: “At Birnham Wood ‘Shelley’s mum’ had become a kind of shorthand for the many evils of the baby-boomer generation, a despised cohort of hoarders and plunderers from which Mira’s own parents, who had recently separated, always seemed mysteriously to be exempt”. While some readers may find the first half of the book a little slow, this is where the reader understands the characters and what drives them; setting up the faster moving second half where the thriller aspect of the novel takes the reader on twists and turns. No spoilers here, but I will only say that the conclusion simultaneously blew my mind and broke my heart. You will not forget this book. A classic in the making.”
“That has to be the most messed-up ending I’ve read in a while. Cracking read though!”

About Eleanor Catton

Eleanor Catton is the author of the international bestseller The Luminaries, winner of the Man Booker Prize and a Governor General’s Literary Award. Her debut novel, The Rehearsal, won the Betty Trask Award, was short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize, and was long-listed for the Orange Prize. She is also the screenwriter of Emma, a 2020 feature film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Born in Canada and raised in New Zealand, she now lives in Cambridge, England.

Start a Book Club

Start a public or private book club with this book on the Fable app today!


Do I have to buy the ebook to participate in a book club?

Why can’t I buy the ebook on the app?

How is Fable’s reader different from Kindle?

Do you sell physical books too?

Are book clubs free to join on Fable?

How do I start a book club with this book on Fable?

Error Icon
Save to a list
Private List
Private lists are not visible to other Fable users on your public profile.
Notification Icon