Review – The Trees, Ali Shaw

I don’t think it would be wrong of me to assert that I’ve never before read a book like this.

I could probably conjure a whole host of elements from other books that it reminds me of, it has the primal fear of the woods that features in Uprooted, it has the horror and the gore of Nevernight, it has the ethical dilemmas of a whole host of novels and much more.

But I could draw one thousand specific examples and still not quite cover all that this book is about.

A rough plot summary: suddenly the whole of England (and possibly the world) is covered in trees overnight. Having awoken to this sinister forest Adrien, a down and out former English teacher, teams up with hippie Hannah and her teenage son Seb to traverse the woods and hopefully reach the woodland cottage of her brother Zach. But as they journey, it becomes clear that these woods are far more sinister than they first appeared, and that there are dangers in this new world far greater than the trees themselves.

This sounds like any number of post apocalyptic novels, but what I like about this story is that it isn’t post apocalypse, the world hasn’t ended, it has merely been turned entirely on it’s head with no notice. We don’t hear about corrupt governments trying to lead, there are no lengthy discussions of international relations, in fact we never really discover the extent of the forest. Rather we see the event through the eyes of individual characters who slowly come to terms with the fact that no one is coming to rescue them.

This book gets gritty and fairly gory quickly and, though there are a number of moments where everyone has their insides on the inside, it quickly shifts and you find yourself squirming at the detailed prose.

If you’re looking for a kind of book which neatly ties every knot and explains every happenstance, I recommend that you look elsewhere, I left this book with more questions than when I began and I don’t think any of them will be answered with a second read. That being said, after a slew of novels which were essentially mystery stories it was quite pleasant to read something that wasn’t trying to plonk clues at the end of every chapter. Ali Shaw isn’t trying to explore the whys and hows of a world suddenly overtaken by a forest, rather he is attempting to show the practicalities and the problems that might come out of this situation given his own understanding of human nature-I’ll give you a clue, he doesn’t give humanity a lot of credit – which makes for fascinating reading.

I can see this as being a good book to read in a book group, as I say it certainly provokes a lot of questions and there’s a lot of interesting discussion that could be taken from it I’m sure.

All in all, this was an entertaining and thought provoking exploration of human nature and how we might cope with being entirely cut off from society. I was most impressed that Ali Shaw managed to avoid most of the clichés that come from this kind of writing. I think this is largely due to the fact that Ali’s characters are far from generic. Adrien, Hannah and Seb (and the others) are well thought out and grounded in reality rather than being idealistic individuals conveniently suited to this exact situation. From one Oxford resident to another – well done sir.

My rating: 4/4.5 stars

Have you read this or anything else by Ali Shaw? Let me know in the comments, I’m intrigued to hear what his other books are like in comparison.

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