Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 6, 2020

Greenwood (2019), by Michael Christie

Greenwood is one of the books I owe to this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.  I had heard a bit about it but I wasn’t really tempted to get a copy until I heard Michael Christie talk about it and then ordered it straight away.  I liked what he had to say about families being built much more than they are born.  That’s my experience too…

Greenwood is constructed in layers, like the rings of a tree.  It begins in Canada in 2038 when Jake (Jacinda) Greenwood is deeply indebted for the cost of her useless degree and working in a soul-destroying job as a tour-guide on Greenwood Island, showing wealthy pilgrims the last stand of trees on earth.  Everywhere else — except for the artificial environments of the wealthy — is choked with dust after The Great Withering, when all the trees died.  Jake’s boss is an unrestrained bully, she earns barely enough to get by, and she will never pay off her debts or achieve the things my generation took for granted: marriage and children, secure work and secure housing.

Like the trees untethered to the dusty soil, Jake is unconnected to anything or anybody.  Her mother is dead, and she never knew her father.  But an old boyfriend turns up, with a fantastic proposition.  His law firm specialises in locating heirs when a deceased has died intestate, (that is, without making a Will), and he thinks she is the descendant of the original owner of Greenwood Island, which would make her surname more than just a coincidence.  And as the trees there are starting to show signs of disease, and she knows she won’t be allowed to cut them down and burn them to contain it because that would be bad for tourism, Jake is willing to entertain the possibility of having the power to save the trees.  She is interested enough to read the journal that he leaves with her to prove his scenario.

The story then shifts back through 2008, 1974, 1934 and 1908, and then from this ‘heartwood’ reverses chronology to return to 2038.  Along the way we learn about Liam, who reinvents his wasted life to become a master craftsman working with reclaimed timber; about Willow, who’s a radical activist who spends her life disrupting the timber industry that her estranged father Harris Greenwood built up from nothing.  There are no good fathers in this story, and the mothers who aren’t absent, aren’t much good to their children.  The men and women who care most about the children they encounter have no biological relationship to them at all.

We learn about the most heroic of these through the fairytale story of a child rescued from death by a most unlikely hero, and about the pursuit of this child and her reluctant saviour as they ride the railroads to evade capture.  There is also a particularly harrowing death, which made me question the author’s purpose — until I realised that it’s a forecast of the death that awaits all humanity unless the present policy paralysis is resolved.

Combining dystopia, historical fiction and a family saga about people who are not a family as we know it, Christie creates a marvellous trail of clues and counter-clues to maintain the narrative tension, culminating in the last chapter which contains the journal of Euphemia Baxter and cheerfully unravels some of the conclusions I’d come to!  Apart from the focus on climate change, he also alludes to other contemporary issues such as #MeToo; the role of Big Pharma in promoting the overuse of prescription drugs; unrestrained corporate greed, bad parenting, and the fundamental inequalities of our age.  If that sounds like an overdose of ‘worthy’ issues, let me assure you that the book is not the least little bit heavy handed.  In fact, I could not put it down.

Highly recommended!

Theresa Smith liked it too.

Author: Michael Christie
Title: Greenwood
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2020, first published 2019
ISBN: 9781925713855, pbk., 490 pages
Source: Personal copy, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh $32.99




  1. Many thanks for recommending Greenwood, Lisa. I’ve just ordered a copy. It sounds great.


    • I loved it:), I hope you do too.


  2. Your review makes me want to read the book all over again! It’s a favourite of mine.


    • If I didn’t restrict my best books of the year to Australian authors, it would definitely be on my list.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It sounds great and I think you’re ready for The Overstory by Richard Powers.


    • I’ve got it somewhere on the TBR:)


  4. This sound good. It sounds like the reverse structure to Catherine McKinnon’s (sp) Storyland which starts as I recollect in the past and moves through time to the future and then back to the past again?

    As for Emma, comment, my reading group did Overstory a couple of months ago in the middle of my worst time and I didnt read it as I knew it needed a concentration level I didn’t have. I have it though!


    • Yes, that’s right, I loved Storyland, and the structure is also like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. When it works it’s a very effective structure.
      Don’t stress about books unread… you’ve done very well to keep going at all. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve made a note to get this when it comes out here in paperback in February. Sounds like a treat of a book


    • That’s surprising, that we’ve got it so long before you do? Usually it’s the other way round…


  6. This one has been a highlight of my reading year so far too.


    • Mine too, I agree. And when we say that in October, with a lot of books read since January, well, it really means something.

      Liked by 1 person

Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: