I’m not sure that I would have finished The Trees, except that it was loaned to me by an acquaintance and I didn’t want to seem like someone who doesn’t finish books. (They offered to loan it to me after I commented on how beautiful the cover is. Seriously, that’s a lovely cover, isn’t it?)
In defense of The Trees, the book did get slightly more interesting once I persevered. In my defense, that point was well over two-thirds of the way in. The main problem that I had was that while the concept of the novel is very creative, the execution and the characters themselves are poorly crafted.
The book begins “the night the trees come”. Our main character, Adrien Thomas, a lacklustre former teacher in suburban England, is awakened one night when a forest grows through his house. All through his town (and indeed, it appears, throughout the world) an ancient forest has burst through the human-made world. Suddenly, the world finds itself living in the middle of a forest. Adrien – generally lacking in survival skills or any real motivation – happens to meet up with Hannah and her son Seb and they set off west. First to find Hannah’s brother and then, maybe, to find Adrien’s wife who is on a business trip in Ireland.
Adrien is, I think, supposed to represent the weakness of modern man, softened by our luxurious lifestyle. The problem is that he’s extremely unlikeable and seems to spend most of the book whining and being carried along by the characters/action around him. I honestly didn’t care what happened to him and so it was a struggle to follow him through hundreds of pages. Most of which seemed to be the main characters walking through the forest and seeing strange things. When they finally reach their destination, it felt like too little too late and the ultimate conclusion is, frankly, bizarre. And not bizarre in a way that felt right to the novel but bizarre in a way that seemed to contradict what came before.
For an apocalyptic novel, The Trees lacks tension and excitement. While I didn’t necessarily expect a The Road style intensity, it seems likely there would be more conflict in a world where there is no longer any law or social structure. But aside from two characters, it seems like people are mostly carrying on as best they can and being respectful of others. There’s some mention of looting but even this seems very minimal. Perhaps this is the whole “stiff upper lip” British thing and this is, in fact, how the English would proceed if the world ended.