Barkskins – Annie Proulx

Barkskins - Annie ProulxThis is a sweeping Michener-like novel that spans over 300 years, with two family trees at the back of the book to keep track of multiple characters. The novel begins with two men from France who go to New France (Quebec) in 1693 to make a new life in the new world. Their lives diverge remarkably. Charles Duquet/Duke is driven by greed and opportunity to establish a huge and prosperous timber empire; Rene Set marries an indigenous woman so his story takes a very different path. Exploitation of forests is a major theme, not just in North America; the story also extends to China and New Zealand (the giant kauri trees). The book has a satisfying ecological message at the end – overall, a very good read.

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries - Eleanor CattonAn epic story set in a remote gold mining frontier town in New Zealand’s South Island in 1866. There is a mystery with murder and disappearances; everyone is hiding misdeeds and withholding information. The structure of this Man Booker prize winning novel is fascinating. The first half of the book essentially describes a meeting of 13 men and each fairly long chapter provides a different point of view unique to each character. The second half has shorter chapters as more back story is revealed, mostly about some really delicious villains. This is fabulous story telling, even better as a second read compared to when I first read this book.