The Man Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for five decades. Each year, the prize is award to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.
The full shortlist of six titles can be found here, but in this series of articles we will look at each title in detail.
Nine strangers, each in different ways, become summoned by trees, brought together in a last stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.
The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fable, ranging from antebellum New York to the late-twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, revealing a world alongside our own – vast, slow, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world, and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
Thoughts on the book
Books and Banter in Houghton is one of the groups that have been shadowing the Prize this year. They found it a challenging book, in particular as the size was daunting for many members. They thought that the different stories meant it was difficult to get into, and the focus on trees was not for everyone! However, they also found it to be a “well-written, thought-provoking book that requires time to absorb and understand the intricacies of the various characters.”
Judge Leanne Shapton commented:
The Overstory, a novel about trees and people who understand them, is the eco-epic of the year and perhaps the decade. Unlike the Lorax, who spoke for the trees, Richard Powers prefers to let them do their own talking. Instead of a middle distance or landscape, he offers portraits: a gallery of species — Chestnut, Mulberry, Banyan, Redwood — placing his human characters correctly in scale with that royalty. The trees tell of cellular ancestry and transmission, cycles that take place along spans of time we cannot imagine, though Powers can and does. Nine powerfully written, interlinked stories play out in the understory. Along the way there are stirring, lyrical paragraphs on love, photography, the culture of ancient China, game code, science, and maybe most impressively, faith, rendered without sanctimony or reprimand. By the end, the book’s voices, human and arboreal, echo unforgettably.
Have you read The Overstory? Do you want to know what other readers thought? Leave your own review online.
What to know more? Download a Readers’ Guide for The Overstory, including information about the author, as well as some discussion notes and themed reading.
Want ideas on what to read next? We’ve created a supporting booklist with suggestions of other books that you might like to try if you enjoyed The Overstory, including books with similar locations, writing styles or genres.
Find out about the other reading groups shadowing the Man Booker Prize and take a look at their reviews of the shortlist.