All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

on August 11, 2020

The Last Migration
Charlotte McConaghy
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 272p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A dark past. An impossible journey. The will to survive.

How far you would you go for love? Franny Stone is determined to go to the end of the earth, following the last of the Arctic terns on what may be their final migration to Antarctica.

As animal populations plummet and commercial fishing faces prohibition, Franny talks her way onto one of the few remaining boats heading south. But as she and the eccentric crew travel further from shore and safety, the dark secrets of Franny’s life begin to unspool. A daughter’s yearning search for her mother. An impulsive, passionate marriage. A shocking crime. Haunted by love and violence, Franny must confront what she is really running towards – and from.

The Last Migration is a wild, gripping and deeply moving novel from a brilliant young writer. From the west coast of Ireland to Australia and remote Greenland, through crashing Atlantic swells to the bottom of the world, this is an ode to the wild places and creatures now threatened, and an epic story of the possibility of hope against all odds.

This book was absolutely stunning.

I didn’t really know much about this but both Arctic and Antarctic in the blurb? Yes please! The book begins with Franny Stone in Greenland where she has successfully managed to tag three Arctic Terns to track in what is believed to be probably the last migration of them ever. This is set in a not-too-distant sort of future that could also be now where large swathes of creatures have been declared extinct, including lots of birds. Fish stocks in the seas have diminished to the point where there won’t be enough to fuel the birds in order to make the trip from the top of the Earth to the bottom. This is Franny’s last chance – she must convince a boat to allow her on board to track the Terns and Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani (Innuit for raven) is the only one, when she promises him one last bounty.

The book is told back and forth in time – Franny’s present is her desire to track the birds on their last migration and she’s willing to do pretty much anything to make it happen. But to understand why she’s there, you need to know about her past and the book fills in the gaps over the course of the story. She’s Irish Australian and has spent time in both countries. Franny’s sole consistent thing in life has been the sea – she swims in it all year round, seems almost impervious to the cold and it’s such a part of her it almost forms her identity.

The more we dive back into Franny’s past, the more it’s mired in pain and loss and suffering but yet she continues to go on. She’s also experienced a great love, found someone whom it seemed she could truly be herself with, even with the desire she has that she cannot control, to wander. She always returns though. When it becomes obvious that something is missing in the present, you have to wait for the past to fill it in for you, to understand why Franny is where she is and why she is so desperate to do this. What it means to her.

I loved everything about this. The wildness of the setting (well the various settings, really) – from Franny in Greenland talking herself onto the boat, to the journey down the coast towards Antarctica, suffering through absolutely brutal storms. There was a beauty in reading this, the descriptions were so vivid. It felt like I was there, as inept as Franny about boats, learning to tie knots and keep machines running, feeling the swell and sting of ocean spray. And in the backstories, there’s beautiful settings as well, from the coast of Ireland to remote Scotland to coastal country Australia. The love of nature and wild environments runs through this book as does the fear that it is slowly being destroyed. This is the future we could be staring down at some stage – already there are so many species of animal that are close to being extinct in the wild and probably many more that we have destroyed without even knowing it. There’s a statement that runs through this, that these animals that have been around for thousands of years, have learned to live and adapt to everything……except humans.

It isn’t just the descriptions of the natural world that excel in this story – it’s the depiction of the characters and their interactions with each other as well. Franny is so raw and full of pain and determination and hope and wonder at what she’s experiencing, but it’s not just her. The crew of the Saghani are an eclectic mix of souls, I loved their mistrust of Franny’s worming her way onto the boat at first, the way they worked her hard because an unskilled person is a liability. But slowly, they came to understand what she was doing and why, be affected by it as well and protect the journey until almost everyone was willing to do whatever it took for Franny to make it all the way to where the terns would be. It was a beautiful evolution, that journey on the boat. Likewise all Franny’s previous interactions and relationships with people make a mark on her that’s clear to see in the present day, the reasons why she’s doing what she’s doing.

I squeezed this in the day of Charlotte’s event for the Melbourne Writers Festival and I’m so glad I did. Because even though the session contained no spoilers, the book was so fresh in my mind and I think it really helped me appreciate it even more. There was so much about what was said (and I hope to have my summary of that session posted soon) but definitely one of the things that the author said was that even though this was a book full of characters that had experienced such grief and pain and even though so many species of the Earth’s wildlife had been declared extinct, there was also a huge element of hope in the story and I saw that and felt it.

I wish I had better words to describe this, it gives me the same feelings I got reading Where The Crawdads Sing last year. One of those books that worms its way in and you find yourself thinking about it over and over in the days, weeks and even months to come. Charlotte McConaghy also described her forthcoming work in the session and I absolutely cannot wait for that book.


Book #160 of 2020

The Last Migration is book #56 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

2 responses to “Review: The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

  1. I can’t wait to read this. I have now had confirmation that a copy is on its way to me, just taking a VERY long time. I’ll be reading it immediately once it arrives.

  2. Marg says:

    High praise indeed

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