Barkskins — Annie Proulx

This was recently made into a TV series and when i noticed it i remembered that it had been sitting in “The Pile” for quite some time an thought this would be a good time to give it a read and then, afterwards, think about watching the TV show if i feel it would bring anything to the story.

This was my third Annie Proulx book.   My first was Accordion Crimes, which i read years ago — having found the paperback loitering in a charity shop — and thoroughly enjoyed and is definitely on my bucket list to read again one day when the Kindle version goes on sale.   I’ve also read The Shipping News, which was also quite the experience: so i was quite looking forward to Barkskins.

First comments on this has to be its size.   If you’re not in for a very, very long book — its over 10,000 Kindle location points — then just stay away.   But, if you’re up to the challenge, it’s a very, very rewarding book.

It’s very much the usual Annie Proulx style, giving us a deep and long trip through North America’s history telling the stories of people at the bottom of the pile rather than those at the top like the history books always do.   It’s also a deep and long trip through the history of forest devastation the world over, and that’s what this book is really about: how Europeans, having destroyed all the great European forests then discovered the New World and its seemingly infinite forests of never ending trees, set about destroying those — and also the people who had lived in harmony with those forests for thousands of years — with extreme predjudice.   Along the way it also touches on New Zealand, as well as the great tropical forests, as the corporations who, having wrought the destruction and decimation of North America’s great forests, then realised that there was plenty of far more exotic and expensive woods to be had — not to mention all that farm land once the trees were cleared — by destroying the rest of the world’s forests.

It also touches on the folly of managed forests and sustainable forestry and how we fool ourselves into thinking that these are anything even approaching a real, natural forest.   The delusions of Homo sapiens convincing themselves that they know better than Nature as to how Nature should be.   We’re currently in a global pandemic thanks, completely, to Homo sapiens’ interference in the Natural order.   But we won’t learn and we certainly won’t stop until we’ve destroyed it all and ourselves with it.   Only at the end will we finally understand that corporate profits cannot ever sustain life.

Yes, after all is written and read, this is a book that screams at humanity to get its shit together before its too late, and maybe there’s also a suggestion that it’s already too late.   Homo sapiens, by destroying the very life blood of Earth, the forests, has inevitably destroyed any chance of Homo sapiens’ survival upon Earth.   As the book makes abundantly clear, we can never put back and recreate what we destroyed, it will take thousands of years for Earth’s great forests to re-establish themselves but they’ll never be as they were, and even then, that’s only if Homo sapiens fucks off and leaves them alone.   So we’re left with a catch 22 situation, if Homo sapiens remains on the planet in the numbers that we are, then the great forests can never begin to re-establish themselves, if they don’t re-establish themselves then there’s no future on this planet for Homo sapiens.   Either way, Homo sapiens is doomed and the forests will eventually re-establish themselves — Nature will always win at the end of time.

All in all, a fantastic book, and a must read for all those who still think its somehow possible to save the environment for Homo sapiens to survive.

Before i go though, i did start this by mentioning the TV series and reading this first to see if i’ll be wanting to watch that.   The answer is a firm NO.   I am more than content with the image that this book has left in my mind and i do not wish to muddy and mess with that by watching some hack job of a TV show that cannot even begin to approach the depths this books goes into.

So yeah, don’t watch the TV show and think you know what this is about, take the long path through forests long ago destroyed and read this incredible book instead, you’ll be glad you did.

Annie’s Page