Dwight Garner in The New York Times:
Eleanor Catton’s third novel, “Birnam Wood,” is a big book, a sophisticated page-turner, that does something improbable: It filters anarchist, monkey-wrenching environmental politics, a generational (anti-baby boomer) cri de coeur and a downhill-racing plot through a Stoppardian sense of humor. The result is thrilling. “Birnam Wood” nearly made me laugh with pleasure. The whole thing crackles, like hair drawn through a pocket comb.
Catton, who was born in Canada, raised in New Zealand and now lives in Cambridge, England, is a prodigy. She was, at 28, the youngest-ever recipient of the Booker Prize. She won it for “The Luminaries” (2013), a byzantine, dry-witted novel about irascible gold prospectors and unsolved crimes on New Zealand’s South Island in 1866. She is also the author of “The Rehearsal” (2008), a much slimmer novel, about a relationship between a male teacher and a student at an all-girls high school. Catton has felt like the real thing out of the gate. One reason is her way with dialogue. Her characters are almost disastrously candid. They talk the way real people talk, but they’re freer, ruder, funnier. Alongside the wordplay and in-jokes, and the topping of those jokes, unexpected abrasions pile up. You sense the world being thrashed out in front of your eyes.
Another reason is her knowingness — her thinginess. Catton is at home in the physical world, and her details land. (In “Birnam Wood” her scrimping gardeners strew hair-salon clippings as slug repellent.) Her books move sure-footedly, as if on gravel paths, between microclimates.