Author: Charlotte McConaghy
Genres: Fiction, Dystopian
Pub. date: Aug. 2020 (read Sep. 2020 on Audible)
I really liked this book. It was a total impulse buy at a bookstore in Kits when I was out shopping with my sister. I was drawn to the front cover and thought the setting sounded awesome, so I bought it and started reading it the same day.
Migrations is set in a slightly dystopian future where the majority of wildlife has become extremely endangered or extinct. There’s no year, but it’s easy to believe in the possibility of this future as we continue to speed our way towards non-reversible climate change. Our main character is Franny and the story picks up with her in Iceland trying to talk her way onto a fishing vessel heading south. She’s had a troubled past but has always had a close connection to the ocean. She studies Arctic Terns, one of the last remaining birds on planet earth and followers of one of the most extreme migrations. Every year the terns migrate from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica and back again. My husband is an ornithologist and talks about birds all the time, so I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this one.
First off, the writing is excellent. I was flabbergasted when I googled the author and discovered that this is her first foray into literary fiction and that all her previous books have been YA fantasy… quite the departure! The writing is beautiful, but also compelling and I was immediately dragged into the story. The plot and setting are equally wonderful and I was hooked from the first chapter when Franny wildly throws herself into the freezing cold ocean to rescue someone that didn’t need saving.
Franny convinces Captain Ennis Malone to take her on board under the promise that the terns will help lead them to fish. The fishery is still open despite the dwindling fish stocks and Malone is chasing after a legendary catch of fish so that he can finally return home to his family. The story takes us from Iceland to Antarctica, while the sordid details of Franny’s past are slowly revealed to us and we realize she’s not just running towards the terns, but away from her past.
It’s definitely one of the more bizarre plots, but what literary fiction isn’t just a little bit weird? It’s what makes it so compelling. Franny is a deeply damaged individual, but it’s only through traveling back into the past with her that we realize just how deeply she has hurt and been hurt. McConaghy explores the impact of our childhood experiences on who we grow up to be and whether we are doomed to repeat the cycles of our past.
There was just one part of this book I didn’t like, and that was how the author portrayed Newfoundland. That’s right, my beautiful little island was featured in this book! As we start to meet all the crew of Malone’s fishing vessel, I wasn’t at all surprised to find that this small crew of diehard fishermen would include a Newfoundlander. But when the crew are forced to land in St. John’s, I became disappointed at McConaghy’s portrayal of the island.
The crew lands in St. John’s to jeers of protestors wishing death on the fisherman for overfishing the ocean. While I believe Newfoundlanders absolutely understand the importance of not overfishing, fishing is their heritage and they’re known as some of the kindest people in the world, so I couldn’t imagine any future where fishermen would be getting death threats upon landing on shore. Also, the family the crew stayed with lived within driving distance of St. John’s at a bonafide lighthouse with a sandy beach. Like no, Charlotte McConaghy, you have clearly never been to Newfoundland. Like, is this family the Parks Canada manager at Cape Spear? Or are they going on a multi-hour drive to get to one of the like 3 sandy beaches in Newfoundland? I mean maybe we’re supposed to believe Newfoundland has become some kind of tropical paradise due to climate change, but like, come on, it’s called ‘The Rock’ for a reason.
Anyways, I can try to overlook it for the sake of the book, but it did make me question what kind of research the author put into other parts of the book. It was still a compelling 4 star read for me, but not perfect.