James Gault talks about THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers
This is not a normal review, but I felt it was worth writing, as it serves as a warning to both readers and writers.
This long Man-Booker nominated novel was chosen as the big summer read for a book discussion group of which I am member. I diligently started it, but didn’t manage to get to the end. In fact, I didn’t get very far at all. I read the first three chapters and completely misinterpreted what the book was. I thought the book was a series of short stories illustrating the importance of trees in the lives of humans. Although these stories were very well written, I found them to be quite similar and, frankly, I just couldn’t face reading a whole book of them.
As I found out when discussing the book in our group, I had been completely WRONG. The book is a story about ecology activists. How could I have made such a mistake?
Of course, it is partly my own fault for my lack of staying power, but I do feel that if a writer can’t engage the reader’s interest in his story within the first three chapters, he must be doing something wrong. And in this case, the author had decided to start his novel with long and similar back-stories of each if his main characters. In the Writers’ Notes section of this e-zine, I have often championed the need to get the reader’s involvement right at the start, and I have also railed against the compulsion some authors have of insisting on putting all their research and preparation into the novel itself. This book seems to be a classic case of these faults, and I really don’t understand how it could have been selected by the Man Booker committee. Maybe it was chosen because it deals with an important topical subject?
Should you read the book? I’m not in a position to advise. If the fight for the environment is something which interests you, perhaps you should. But you will have to have a lot more patience with it than I had.