“The Overstory”

Richard Powers’ “The Overstory” is a quite exceptional book on many levels. Engaging, principled, well-written, intelligent; the narrative weaves it way through its pages like the roots of a tree – especially in the final section where the tendrils mix and merge and knit.

It’s obvious why it was shortlisted for the 2018 ‘Booker’, and won the Pulitzer Prize a year later.

For me, excellent though it is, it’s not quite a great book. And the reason is – I’m almost ashamed to say as it feels such a juvenile complaint – there’s too much of it. It’s too big. There are too many words. At times it felt as if there were too many trees. And the book is about trees…

I couldn’t help thinking that, somewhere in “The Overstory” was a great book, about two-thirds the size, struggling to get out.

I had picked it up from the tables in Waterstones many times before I committed to buy it. There’s a story right there. Eventually I gave in and committed to the 620+ page giant, only once weakening about 350-400 pages in when I thought “that’s enough”. But it’s a good book to see through; it will reward you. And the topic is immense and vital. Whilst it celebrates trees – the real heroes – it both lauds and condemns man; it is both uplifting and positive, and negative and depressing. A glass half-both.

There are lots of reasons you should read “The Overstory” – but you won’t realise it until you’ve read it.