“Southcrop Forest” by Lorne Rothman

I’ve always been interested in stories with non-human characters. I have an idea to write a story one day about a city – not the people in it, but the city itself, as a living character with its own actions and motivations. Trouble is, I’m not really sure where to start.

So I was intrigued by this book, in which the main characters are trees. Trees can’t move around or do very much, so how could a whole novel be written about them? Well, Lorne Rothman manages it, and it works very well.

The premise is that Southcrop Forest is on the verge of destruction, as humans clear the land for urban sprawl. The trees can’t do anything about it, not being able to move and all, but they do want to preserve the things they’ve learned over the last few millennia, most importantly “Southcrop Vision”, the ability to see and share experiences throughout the forest. To do this, they need to contact the larger forest to the north, and the only way to do it is via a colony of tent caterpillars that calls itself Fur.

Fur travels on a quest through the forest, faces a series of challenges, as all good questers do, and in the process he learns about the ecology of the forest. The learning part is clearly important to the author (who has a PhD in zoology and has studied ecology at various Canadian universities), and the book has 84 footnotes giving the scientific basis for various elements of the story. I found this a bit odd in a work of fiction, but there was some interesting stuff in the footnotes, and you can always ignore them if you just want to read the story.

Because of the educational aspect and the fairly simple writing and plot, I think this would be an excellent book for younger readers. As a not-so-young reader, though, I found it charming and very enjoyable – and most importantly, it was very different from anything I’ve read before. A heavily footnoted eco-fantasy novel where the main characters are trees and the hero is a colony of tent caterpillars is not the sort of thing you come across every day, and I found it very refreshing.

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Helen J Beal
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Wow – I love the sound of this book. Whilst most of my teenage friends were busy chasing boys I was knee-deep in hedgerows looking for caterpillars to take home and metamorphise in ice-cream tubs on my windowsill. And I adore unusual narrators – ‘The Collector Collector’ by Tibor Fischer – the story told by an ancient artifact, the book you recommended to me – ‘Skepticism Inc’ where the narrator is a shopping trolley, and ‘The Book of Chameleons’ by Jose Eduardo Agualusa where all the action is observed by a gecko. I just ordered myself a copy on Amazon.… Read more »

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claire
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Sounds wonderful! Have you read Calvino’s Invisible Cities? The cities are like characters in themselves.