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.
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.
I 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.
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