Saturday 21 November 2020

The Last Migration | Charlotte McConaghy #AUSfiction


Charlotte McConaghy has written an intense, emotional story about the effects of mass extinction in The Last Migration. I don't normally quote the back blurb of the book, but in this case it so aptly describes the book, I'm really not sure I can top it.
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.

Our protagonist, Franny Stone, clearly has some major issues going on her personal life, and we can see that she is using this search/hunt/journey to run away from her problems of perhaps find closure. However, McConaghy slowly reveals that her personal issues are actually interwoven into the plight of the migrating birds.

The story is quite angst-ridden and there were times when I wanted to shake Franny into a more sensible, rational frame of mind as she crashed from one scene to the next in her search for personal redemption. But then, I guess it can be hard to be sensible and rational when faced with the reality of a mass extinction of an entire species and the existential loneliness that this climate crisis implies for all of us!

There was a dreamy quality or an otherworldly aspect to this high seas adventure that held the urgency and dramatic tension of the sea voyage at bay. For this reader, they were a welcome relief from the harsh descriptions of life on a small boat in a big sea!

McConaghy references several other authors and poets throughout her book. They are books her characters have read or quote from. I'm always fascinated by this occasional tendency of authors and I like to make a list for future reference. 

Here we Colm Toibin, Mary Oliver (and her poem on geese), Lord Byron, Edgar Allan Poe, Percy Shelley, John Keats, Margaret Atwood, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I love the ending of Mary Oliver | Wild Geese in particular and share it below.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

The other thing that fascinates me is covers and titles. 

Above I have the Australian title and cover.

Below are the cover and title for the USA, a proof copy and Germany. All three of which I prefer way more than the Australian cover. I don't know why so many Aussie covers insist on using a human figure. They turn me off for some reason. 

As an aside, I had been feeling very negative about the new Richard Flanagan, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. Partly thanks to my experience with his previous book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but also in part to the submerged face of a woman on the cover! However, when I finally picked it up, I discovered that underneath the off-putting face dust jacket is a gorgeous leaf-textured hardcover book and inside is a story that has me completely engaged. Needless to say, I have discarded the dust jacket.

But back to The Last Migration.
I feel the Australian title best describes the story as Migrations suggests that there is more than one migration, when clearly the story is highlighting the very last migration of the Arctic terns. Although now I think about, it could be a plural to allude to the migration or journey taken by our protagonist as well. Hmmm, interesting.

US cover and title

US proof cover?

German cover and title

Eco-dystopian (environmental end of the world as we know it stories) or climate fiction are not everyone's cup of tea, but I have become a bit of a fan, if you can call a mere handful of titles, a fan. The Overstory by Richard Powers is an absorbing, epic climate fiction novel well worth your time, while The Rain Heron and Flames, both by Robbie Arnott are eco-dystopian and also firm favourites of mine. Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy is also eco-dystopian as well. 

Epigraph: Rumi
Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live.

The entire passage reads: “Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.”

Opening Line

The animals are all dying. Soon we will be alone here.

Favourite Quote:

there is meaning, and it lives in nurturing, in making life sweeter for ourselves, and for those around us.

#Australian Women Writers


  1. I wonder.....what novel on climate change will wake people up like On the Beach (..the book was chilling...) did for nuclear weaponry?

    1. Trouble is these books never get into the hands of the people who perhaps, should really read it. They tend to just preach to the converted *shrugs*

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Brona. I think the eco-dystopian theme is a bit more than I can take at the moment personally

    1. Eco-dystopian is a bit like the whole Plague-Lit thing I'm going through right now too, I think. The things that scare me, I have to bring closer and delve into, to understand and give me some power, over what is, ultimately, out of my control!

  3. Great review. I think you could understand Migrations in the plural as the migration of the arctic tern, but also migrations about many characters in the book as well, including Franny's husband...

    1. Definitely! As soon as I wrote that there was only one migration in the book, I realised that was inaccurate. Ennis, the captain of the boat was another.

  4. I loved this novel and really enjoyed listening to the author at Melbourne Writer’s Festival this year.
    Did you know it is being made into a movie. Produced by and starring Claire Foy, of The Crown fame.

    1. Oh, I can see Claire Foy as Franny - she has the right sense of tough fragility required for the role (imo).

  5. I've got this one in my stack ATM. I'd been hoping to squeeze it in for your Australian reading month but other library loans were due sooner and claimed my attention first. (I've got the U.S. cover.) Like you, this is a topic I'm delving into because I don't see an alternative; the fear, on its own, left undealtwith, is simply too much. I've added The Rain Heron to my TBR. If you don't know the site, you're in for a treat (and your TBR should brace itself)!

    1. What a great site! I look forward to exploring more of their around the world book posts.


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