Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats
Thursday, March 18, 2010
"The Republic of Trees" by Sam Taylor
I finally found myself ready to read this one. I don't know why I avoided it for so long--probably because I had such high expectations of it, after how much I enjoyed Taylor's The Amnesiac, and I feared disappointment.
I'm so glad to say I was not disappointed. Now, I must expand upon that statement, because there's more to it than my pleasure at avoiding disappointment. I didn't like this one as much as I liked The Amnesiac, and I would hesitate to recommend this book to just anyone. I would probably have someone try one of Taylor's other books first before I would mention this one to them. It's definitely powerful, and not for everyone. It was interesting to note the same theme of amnesia in both books, although the treatment differs between the two. In Republic, the amnesia seems like more of a literary device used because it is convenient for the plot; in Amnesiac the amnesia has more of a central purpose. I wonder what's behind Taylor's fascination with the subject?
In a nutshell, this book is about two brothers (Michael, the younger, and Louis) and a neighboring brother and sister (Alex and Isobel) who decide to throw off the bonds of civilization and create their own republic in the forest near their town. It begins in an idyllic manner, with each member of the republic spending his or her time in doing as they please, which seems to work well until the arrival of Joy (about whom I'm still wondering if she may have been a figment of Michael's imagination, or a metaphor for something I haven't quite figured out yet). Louis has always admired the works of Rousseau, namely The Social Contract; after Joy's arrival, the group of five become more serious about the politics of their republic, using Rousseau's book as their bible. The third part of the novel is pretty much just horrifying, as their republic crumbles on the weak foundation of Michael's madness and Joy's calm but steadfast goading.
I'm sure I'm not the first person to have had this idea, but I can't help but compare this book to Lord of the Flies, with their many similar elements. Of course it's been years since I've read LOTF, so I'm a little foggy on the details, but I don't recall any girls in that one, so Taylor's book introduces a new element of sexual tension.
I was left with many questions. First, I wonder what caused Michael's significant break from reality? His insanity seems to begin in earnest between parts one and two of the book, after he confesses his love to Isobel and before he awakens from his odd dreams during which Joy appears. The other members of the Republic decide MIchael must have hit his head, perhaps in a fall from a tree, which knocked him unconcsious for an indeterminate amount of time. Of course, Michael had always had an odd separation from reality, seen in his frequent and deep daydreams; but what is it that tipped him over the edge? It seems like a head injury is too shallow an explanation, but that's the only one I come up with. Later his blackouts might be attributed to alcohol, but even this seems inadequate.
Second, where had everyone in the town gone, when Isobel tried to run away and found all the houses deserted? Did they disappear when the Republic decided to believe that nothing else existed? I am trying to force this book into the idea that the children had decided to exist outside of a normal, sane reality, and that there must be a rational explanation for all of their odd circumstances even if their perception led them to believe otherwise, but the only rational explanation I can come up with (the town was evacuated for fear of the Republic's raids) seems just as unlikely as the idea that the townspeople just ceased to exist because of the Republic's unbelief.
Third, what the heck was the stinky hole under the tent all about? I can't even come up with any sort of plausible explanation for that. Sure wish I could ask the author.