BG 1 met via Zoom on 29th January 2021
The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Overstory is a 2018 novel by American novelist, Richard Powers, who says that he wrote it because of a powerful encounter he had with a giant redwood tree. Powers describes this as a “religious conversation”, and you can truly feel this in the book. He went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 2019.
The Overstory is an impassioned work of activism and resistance that also summons you to a stunning natural world. It was a ‘good’ read, in terms of diverse characters and plot lines full of action and pathos. The language was just beautiful, although some found it rambled on. It is a huge novel, cleverly structured around roots, trunk, crown and seeds. As Trees grow very slowly, so do the characters in this book take their time evolving in their common experiences with trauma and their association with the trees.
It unfolds in concentric circles - there is a world alongside ours that is - vast, slow, timeless, interconnected, resourceful and vastly invisible to us. The first part Roots is very much about laying the foundation of the book with the stories of the 9 individual characters. In Trunk we see how the characters similar backgrounds bring them together. Crown and Seed go on to describe the characters lives 20 years on and bring them to a close.
Interconnectivity is one of the main themes of the book - Humans are interconnected, the trees are interconnected with each other, and of course with humans too. The book goes on to show that Trees communicate with each other, warn each other; they provide for innumerable species; they have memory; they die and resurrect; they have shared immune systems; they filter water, regulate the Earth’s temperature, and create atmosphere. There is no way that humans survive without trees, but trees certainly don’t need humans.
I will leave you to mull over one of my personal favourite quotes in the book when Powers describes Humans as - ‘trapped in blinkered bodies.’