The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

Franny Stone is a woman with an obsession that she will follow to the death.

When we meet her she is in windswept Greenland during nesting season, braving the elements to tag birds, Arctic terns. She manages to tag three. She wants to follow them, on what might be their last migration, in a world where so many other species have already disappeared.

She is looking for a boat and a crew she can influence, to follow the birds, because they will lead these fishermen to where the fish are -they are also disappearing and this profession is in danger, both from humans wanting to stop them and by governments who want to ban their activities. Frannie doesn’t support them, but she needs them, so compromises her beliefs to pursue her obsession.

Ennis Malone. Captain of Saghani. The Saghani: an Inuit word for raven.

His vessel is one of the last legally certified to fish for Atlantic herring, and he does so with a crew of seven.

bird migration Charlotte McConaghy

Photo by Wendy Wei on

As they journey following the red dot tracker of the bird, her own story, character and the mystery surrounding her is slowly revealed.

I decided to follow a bird over an ocean. Maybe I was hoping it would lead me to where they’d all fled, all those of its kind, all the creatures we thought we’d killed. Maybe I thought I’d discover whatever cruel thing drove me to leave people and places and everything, always. Or maybe I was just hoping the bird’s final migration would show me a place to belong.

Chapters flick back and forward between places she has inhabited, people she has known: Ireland with her mother, Australia with an unloving grandmother, jail time, a box that reveals information about her father, letters to her husband Niall, a man we don’t know what happened to. Clues are dropped throughout the narrative, as she continues a dangerous journey.

After nearly losing one crew member they pull in to port for medical help, met by angry protestors. It is unsure whether they can continue on their mission.

novels about bird migration natureI admit I found it difficult to believe that a young woman could convince the tough crew of one of the last fishing boats to accept her suggestion to follow the blinking light of a few birds, over the knowledge and intentions of an experienced captain.

It was difficult to suspend belief, particularly as the more we come to know about her as a character, the less it seemed she was capable was influencing their decisions.

It becomes clear that she is chasing more than just a flight path, as her dark secrets are revealed.

Speculative Eco Fiction

It has been described as a hybrid novel, ‘both an adventure story and a piece of speculative climate fiction’, personally I’d call it mystery and adventure set in a not too distant future, when more species are extinct and there is a greater sense of urgency and violent activism to prevent those seen as contributing towards it.

Asked about the inspiration for writing the novel, Charlotte McConaghy said:

Toni Morrison said ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ And this book was like that for me. It just felt necessary for me to engage with this climate crisis in a personal, intimate way, to write about something that’s breaking my heart.

I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a stand out novel for me. In the US, the book is marketed under the title Migrations, I read the UK version entitled The Last Migration.

N.B. I read an ARC (advance reader copy) of this novel, provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Further Reading

Interview: Sophie Masson of Feathers of the Firebird interviews Charlotte McConaghy

Review: NY Times – The Animals Are Dying. Soon We Will Be Alone Here by Ellie Tzoni

5 thoughts on “The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

  1. I read this book too, and when I first saw your post I thought you were talking about another book, because here in the US as you point out, it is called Migrations. Interesting to have the alternate title The Last Migration, which in my opinion is a huge spoiler and giveaway. I think she has a tremendous future as a writer, there is so much that is amazing about this book. At the same time, I found the lead character almost totally unbelievable. Some of the things she managed to pull off seemed beyond belief to me. I think the author tried too hard for extra drama and suspense when she could have just let the story play out…..mixed feelings about this one. And it is, of course, intensely heartbreaking.


    • I had a similar feeling, there was such potential but I wasn’t convinced by the character’s impulsivity and influence to create the various outcomes that occurred. It tried to do too much and something was lost by trying to balance all those aspects. It felt to me more ‘mystery’ genre than literary fiction, so perhaps more likely to appeal to those who enjoy mysteries.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm. I may have mis-read your review, but this seems as if it might come under the heading ‘worthy’, with ideas not important enough to merit reading in a form that’s not entirely engaging. As the pandemic goes on and on, I find concentration is an issue, and I’m no longer giving the attention they sometimes deserve to a whole range of books.


    • It didn’t quite convince me while reading, and I think that may have been due to the elements of mystery (which require an element of holding things back) and the quite bold actions of the protagonist that I found difficult to believe.
      It was a relatively easy read, and certainly a popular subject, just not as fulfilling for me as I would like.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Dublin Literary Award longlist 2022 – Word by Word

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