Greenwood: A Novel

by Michael Christie

Paperback, 2021

Publication

Hogarth (2021), Edition: Reprint, 528 pages

Description

"It's 2034 and Jake Greenwood is a storyteller and a liar, an overqualified tour guide babysitting ultra-rich vacationers in one of the world's last remaining forests. It's 2008 and Liam Greenwood is a carpenter, fallen from a ladder and sprawled on his broken back, calling out from the concrete floor of an empty mansion. It's 1974 and Willow Greenwood is out of jail, free after being locked up for one of her endless series of environmental protests: attempts at atonement for the sins of her father's once vast and violent timber empire. It's 1934 and Everett Greenwood is alone, as usual, in his maple syrup camp squat when he hears the cries of an abandoned infant and gets tangled up in the web of a crime that will cling to his family for decades. And throughout, there are trees: thrumming a steady, silent pulse beneath Christie's effortless sentences and working as a guiding metaphor for withering, weathering, and survival. A shining, intricate clockwork of a novel, Greenwood is a rain-soaked and sun-dappled story of the bonds and breaking points of money and love, wood and blood--and the hopeful, impossible task of growing toward the light"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Gwendydd
This is a family saga that follows four generations of the Greenwood family, their relationships to each other, and their relationships to the logging industry. It has a nested structure - the first chapter begins in the 2030s with the last member of the family, then subsequent chapters go backward
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a generation until they reach the beginning of the story and then the book is chronological from there, back to the 2030s. This is a tidy way to give you some foreshadowing of how each generation of the family affects the next.

The story is generally engaging, especially because you know how it ends from the very beginning so you're curious how it gets there. Unfortunately, the characters are very one-dimensional. The one exception is Harris, the orphaned founder of the family line, who is a wealthy logging magnate and must hide his homosexuality. Even though this gives his character some complexity, he doesn't really change much through his entire lifetime.

There were several aspects of the book that just felt wildly implausible to me, and that made it hard to enjoy it. The biggest offender was the whole storyline of Harris's brother Everett traveling as a hobo with a newborn infant. The book never talks about how he manages to find and carry enough food for her, especially because she's lactose intolerant. The plot also hinges on the survival of a journal, which apparently just sat outside for 100 years without getting soggy or decaying.

The end was also really disappointing, because Christie didn't seem quite sure what he wanted to do at the end, other than some trite platitudes about the importance of family.

I have seen some people say that if you liked Overstory, you should read this. That isn't necessarily wrong, but Overstory is in an entirely different league than this book. Trees are used as a constant metaphor and play an incidental role in the lives of all of the characters, but trees don't drive the action the way they do in Overstory, nor are they actually integral to the plot. If the book were about fish and fishing instead of trees and logging, the story itself would hardly change.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
Set in beautiful British Columbia, this novel connects a family to the majestic native trees of the forest. The metaphor is perfect. Christie makes each character a clear definition of him/herself and unfolds how the past connects to the future. I don't know if this book affected me more this
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summer since we won't be making our annual trip to B.C. (due to COVID-19) or that we just sold our cabin in Point Roberts, but I found the narrative evoking emotions and simply loved it.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
In 2038, Jake (Jacinda) is mired in college debt, has a fondness for alcoholic drinks and is working as a guide on an exclusive forest preserve island off the coast of British Columbia. The world is being destroyed by the “withering” and most of the US is covered in dust. When she discovers she
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may own the island, the story moves to the past and the legacy various people brought to that pristine forest. Going back to 1908, the reader discovers how one misguided action impacts the future. Published in Canada last year, it was nominated for several prizes. Its clear from the author’s descriptions he loves the forest. Layer by layer, just as in a forest, actions impact the future.
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LibraryThing member ethel55
This was excellent, I couldn't wait to continue reading the story every time I set it down. In the not far enough away future, Jacinda (Jake) Greenwood is working off her college debt with a plum job on a tree filled tourist island off of Canada. An old boyfriend's arrival with supposed proof of
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ownership of this island sends the story backward in time, and then back to this future place.
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LibraryThing member smik
First of all, blog-followers, this is not crime fiction, although there are mysteries to be untangled.

In four generations, a family moves from tree fellers to tree preservers, and around their family the world begins to show the effects of this long term destruction of the world's resources. Dust
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that results from the baring of the earth brings first great dust storms, then the Withering, and then finally a fungus that will destroy the last forests.

The story begins in 2038, on the outer ring, as it were, when planet Earth appears to be almost in its death throes, at an exclusive arboreal resort, a remote forested island in British Columbia where Pilgrims come to reconnect with an almost forgotten past. From there the story jumps back 30 years, then back another 40, until we reach the centre of the family "tree", when the name Greenwood is born. Eventually story comes out through the rings and we come "full circle" and back to where we started. Little mysteries are solved, and the family saga takes on an almost linear aspect.

The novel is challenging to read, in that there is so much we are told, and so much we need to remember. The dystopian part, our future, is not pleasant to behold.
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LibraryThing member OscarWilde87
Michael Christie's Greenwood is set in Canada and relates the story of different generations of the Greenwood family between 1908 and 2038. The family only comes into being when two boys survive a train crash and are found and taken in by locals. They are assumed to be brothers although they are
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actually not and as no one knows their names they are given the surname Greenwood. Harris and Everett Greenwood grow up in the woods and are cared for and looked after by the townspeople. They both develop a relationship to nature, especially to trees, which will shape their later lives. While Harris will own a successful business, Everett's life will take a turn for the worse and he will spend a large part of his life in prison. Cut to 2038. The world is in a bad shape and trees and woods are scarce. Jake Greenwood is a forest guide with an eco-tourism agency that lets people enjoy nature for a while, provided they are willing to pay high prices. The rest of the world is haunted by dust that affects people's health. Soon Jake learns about her roots and a story of different generations of the Greenwood family tree unfolds.

While the idea for the novel did not really fascinate me right from the beginning and I found it hard to get into the book because of the jumps in time, I liked the book quite well. The main part is set in the 1930s which made it easier to grasp the connection between the different characters. Towards the middle of the book I was actually intrigued to find out more about the Greenwood family and the fates of its members. I was disappointed by the ending, though. 3.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Greenwood by Michael Christie (If I Fall, If I Die) traces members of a scattered and dysfunctional family from a dystopian Canada in 2038 to 1908 and back again. Connecting them all together even more than their DNA--trees and damaged relationships. The drunken epiphany of one character says it
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best: “...the clearer it becomes to him that his mother has lived her life fleeing a brokenness, one passed down to her by the broken people who came before her, and that she’s passed some of this same brokenness down to him…” Greenwood is an excellent family saga that examines the often-ugly themes of addiction, wealth, environmental destruction and what ultimately makes a family. Readers prepared for a depressing view of life that enjoy historical fiction will not be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member DidIReallyReadThat
It's 2038 and most of the trees in the world have died in The Withering. Jake Greenwood works as tourist guide in one of the last remaining forests on the planet which wealthy tourists from all over the world come to visit. She has no family. One day, an old friend comes to visit and informs that
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he has proof that she is not who she thinks she is but actually someone else. The story then works backwards in time to cover the history of Jake's family right up to her great grandfather's childhood in 1908. The book then reverses course and moves forward to 2038 where Jake must make a decision that will affect the rest of her life. Most of the characters' lives are marked with unfairness, tragedy, bad decisions, and natural disasters

Trees are a main character of the book and the theme that ties the story and the characters together.

This book was well-written and hard to put down. I was invested in the characters and found myself cringing at what was coming next hoping that characters would escape the tragedy that was coming their way. The use of trees to tie together ideas, themes, characters was particularly well done. Well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member tinkerbellkk
Interesting book about a family over a century. I heard the writing of the book and it's characters referred to as the rings of a tree and this seemed a good description. The writing is well done and does a beautiful job of weaving the important theme of trees into each characters lives. Each
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generation has its owns challenges and to be honest not one of them has a positive outcome. But I enjoyed each of the characters and their individual paths that they took during their lives.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
Read for book club.

This was very well written and I suspect would be an even better re-read. The way the sections went back in time and then forwards again worked in some ways, but I got confused at times as to how every one was related to every one else. Although the fact that there were two
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characters called Liam made sense in the end, it didn't help with keeping every one straight.

I found this book extremely sad, with all the characters making the wrong decision over and over again. I think the ending was mean to be hopeful, but by then I was just relieved to be done with the story. I'm sure Jake will find new ways to make terrible decisions. Also, I'm not sure Pod would have survived in real life on the diet she apparently 'enjoyed' during her first few months.
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LibraryThing member Lindsay_W
So good, so many gems in the heartwood of this multigenerational story of a complicated family tree, or family forest as Christie calls it. Christie has crafted the perfect book for a pandemic read, especially for British Columbians. “During hard times people crave the consolation of other hard
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times, whether those of the past or an imagined ruined future to ease the pain of the present day they are stuck with (60).” This book has both.
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LibraryThing member Iudita
I just finished this for the 2nd time and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. It is a touching family saga that is woven together expertly and written with style.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
I have mixed feelings about this book. As I was reading if, I was less than impressed, but as I reached the conclusion, my opinions became considerably more positive.
The writing is good - clear, flowing sentences that read well and convey the sense easily. The characters are mixed and varied and
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generally believable - although the slippery slope to substance abuse seems very overdone.
I think it is the plot, and the way it is structured in the book, that troubled me. The plot is expansive and made convoluted by the structure of the book - the action takes place at different times over 130 years, with the periods jumbled - some later parts are presented while the details come much later in the book. This led me to be aware of what was going to happen,minus some of the details as to why they happened. This is a fairly standard device, but for some reason, I was less convinced and more annoyed than I should have been by the structure.
But in the end the author brings things to a strong conclusion, and my appreciation grew significantly.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
I really enjoyed this family saga, spanning over 100 years. Each of the individual stories/time periods was interesting in itself, as well as blended together masterfully. The characters were strong and believable. The only thing I didn't really like was the ending. I thought it left a key issue
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(the inheritance) hanging unnecessarily.

As a physical object, the book was also a delight, with the edges of the pages shaded to resemble tree bark, and the rings of a tree demonstrating the story's time line.
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LibraryThing member JRlibrary
Loved this story so much! This is an important story about trees but there’s SO much more to the book than just that. There are a fabulous collection of characters who are completely unforgettable once you’ve met them; Everett, Temple, Harris, Willow, Liam, Jacinda, Feeney... Lomax and R.J.
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Holt. I’m left feeling like they are all real and I’m mourning their loss now that I’ve finished the book. The way their lives interact, and the way the story unfolds in strategically placed sections that jump from pasts to 2035 and back, kept me up way past my bedtime, reading on and on. There are very few books that I feel are worthy of re-reading or, that I demand returned if I lend them out, but this is one of those books. Did I mention I loved it?
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Thank goodness this book was on the 2019 Giller Prize longlist since I am not sure it would have come to my attention otherwise. It didn't make it onto the shortlist which I think is a shame because more people should read this book which is a family saga running from 1908 to 2038. In each
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generation the family members have a strong attachment to forests and trees. Some want to cut them down and some want to save them. As you can imagine this leads to conflicts.

The Greenwood name was actually made up as a last name for two boys orphaned when two trains collided near Kingston Ontario. The boys were not related but they stayed together after that traumatic event that killed everyone else on the train. Harris and Everett and everyone in the community treated the two boys as brothers. They were given the name Greenwood because they sold firewood they cut from the woodlot they lived in before it had been cured so it was green wood. When World War I started Harris enlisted but Everett wanted to stay on the property they now owned. After Harris finished basic training he came back home to wait for deployment and his eyesight deteriorated. In order to prevent him getting killed overseas Everett restrained him in their cabin the night before the unit was to leave and he joined using Harris's name. Everett survived the war but he was so badly affected by what he had seen and heard that he became a drunk and a hobo. Harris meanwhile had gone to university to learn forestry and he started a lumber company. He wanted to share it with Everett but he could not find him. The succeeding generations of Greenwoods (Willow, Liam and Jacinda) continued the family's involvement with trees. Willow was an eco-warrior who targeted big forestry companies. Her son, Liam, became a carpenter who did beautiful work with reclaimed lumber. Liam's daughter Jacinda was a dedrologist who wanted to study old growth forests but to pay off her student debt she took a job as a guide in a fancy resort on Greenwood Island guiding rich people through one of the last stands of big Douglas firs.

I loved the structure of this book which starts with Jake (as Jacinda likes to be called) in 2038, then goes to Liam's story in 2008, then to Willow's story in 1974, then to Everett's story in 1934 (the height of the Depression), back to the beginning in 1908 and then forward through all the years, ending with Jake in 2038. As Christie said in an interview in the Winnipeg Free Press, the form is like the rings of a tree. There is even a drawing of a tree cross section at the front of the book.

You can tell Christie is passionate about trees from reading this book but he has also put out a call for Canada to start a national tree-planing program to combat climate change. After reading this book and seeing the world he imagines in just 20 years I'm ready to sign on.
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LibraryThing member LibraryCin
In 2038, Jake works on Greenwood Island in British Columbia; it’s one of the only truly livable/habitable places left with its giant trees. A biologist, Jake loves living here, though she’s not as enamoured with the job, touring around “Pilgrims” (tourists). Unfortunately, she’s also
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discovered a couple of trees that appear to be sick; these trees are hundreds of years old.

Her ex-fiance (a lawyer) shows up and books a private tour with her to tell her she might actually “own” the island, given her family history and the history of the island (that is, it may be part of an inheritance for her). The book continues by backing up in time through a few generations of Greenwoods to when Jake’s grandmother was a baby… and one generation earlier in 1908 when Jake’s great-grandfather was a kid (along with his brother). The brothers were very different: Everett ended up a vagrant and in jail; Harris was hugely wealthy via his lumber business, cutting down all the beautiful trees that Jake loves so much.

The bulk of the story followed Harris and Everett and that’s what I liked the best. Have to admit it took a short bit for me to get interested and to figure out what was happening and who the different characters were as we went back in time. I liked the way this one was done: we actually started in 2038, and gradually made our way to 1908 through the generations, then moved forward again back to 2038.
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Awards

Scotiabank Giller Prize (Longlist — 2019)
Canada Reads (Nominee — 2023)
Evergreen Award (Nominee — 2020)
BC and Yukon Book Prizes (Shortlist — Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize — 2020)
Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence (Best (Winner) — Novel — 2020)

Original publication date

2019

ISBN

1984822004 / 9781984822000
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