Skip to main content
What's on /

Folger Book Club:
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

An “eco-thriller” that follows a group of guerilla gardeners in New Zealand and asks questions about morality and ambition, drawing on themes and relationships from Macbeth.

Booking and details


Dates Thu, Aug 1, 2024, 6:30pm

Venue Folger Virtual

Tickets Free, Registration required

Duration 6:30pm - 8:00pm (ET)

Our August 2024 Pick

Birnam Wood
by Eleanor Catton

The Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries brings us Birnam Wood, a gripping thriller of high drama and kaleidoscopic insight into what drives us to survive.

Birnam Wood is on the move . . .

A landslide has closed the Korowai Pass on New Zealand’s South Island, cutting off the town of Thorndike and leaving a sizable farm abandoned. The disaster presents an opportunity for Birnam Wood, an undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no one will notice. For years, the group has struggled to break even. To occupy the farm at Thorndike would mean a shot at solvency at last.

But the enigmatic American billionaire Robert Lemoine also has an interest in the place: he has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker, or so he tells Birnam’s founder, Mira, when he catches her on the property. He’s intrigued by Mira, and by Birnam Wood; although they’re poles apart politically, it seems Lemoine and the group might have enemies in common. But can Birnam trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust one another?

A gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its drama, Austenian in its wit, and, like both influences, fascinated by what makes us who we are. A brilliantly constructed study of intentions, actions, and consequences, it is a mesmerizing, unflinching consideration of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

Why did we choose this?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists. Folger Book Club explores connections between contemporary fiction and the Folger’s mission, collection, and programming.

Kicking off our “Whose Democracy?” season, Birnam Wood asks questions about who truly holds power and how personal boundaries are continuously redrawn by ambition and opportunity, inspired by themes and relationships in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

About the Book Club

Our informal Book Club is free and open to all. Our picks range from historical fiction to adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, encompassing a wide variety of genres—all sourced from a different local, independent bookstore partner each month.

Each session begins with a guest speaker exploring that month’s pick and highlighting items from the Folger collection related to the plot and themes of the novel. After the presentation, participants will be broken into smaller groups for breakout discussions, moderated by a team of staff and volunteers.

Content transparency

Birnam Wood includes potentially sensitive subjects. Expand below for a full list of content (may include spoilers).

Guest Speaker

Todd Andrew Borlik

Todd Andrew Borlik

Listen to Todd Andrew Borlik on Shakespeare Unlimited

Shakespeare, ecology, and the environment
Herne's Oak
Shakespeare and Beyond

Shakespeare, ecology, and the environment

Randall Martin

What does Shakespeare say about ecology and its politically engaged cousin environmentalism? Neither term appears in his work—unsurprising since they hadn’t been coined yet. Nevertheless, we see Shakespeare thinking ecologically in ways that resonate with our own perceptions of the…

We would like to thank the following organization for its generous support of this program

Junior League of Washington