Book Review: The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

The Last Migration is an incredibly moving novel.

The world’s animal species have plummeted dramatically and Franny, a young woman is intent on tracking the last of the Artic Terns from the Arctic to the Antarctica, possibly the last of the birds’ harrowing migration. Along the way, Franny convinces a gnarly fishing Captain with promises of fish if he takes her along to follow the bird. Fishing has all but died and fishermen will do anything to keep their livelihood going despite the fact that most of the sea has been fished out. The journey is tough and Franny’s own search for a missing mother and the unfolding story of her life is emotional and touching.

The journey of the Artic tern said to be the longest migration of any species in the world was made the more fascinating when I took a trip myself. Imagine my surprise when I visited a wildlife reserve on Phillip Island, an hour and half south of Melbourne and saw a sign telling me about the breeding grounds of Artic Terns. There were none there when I visited so I guess, they’re still on the homeward stretch although there were plenty of other birds. And somehow this book seemed extra special to me after seeing where their journey will end.

I’m not sure when I first started dreaming of the passage, or when it became as much a part of me as the instinct for breath. I haven’t cultivated it myself; it swallowed me whole. At first an impossible, foolish fantasy: the notion of securing a place on a fishing vessel and having its captain carry me as far south as he is able; the idea of following the migration of a bird, the longest natural migration of any living creature. But a will is a powerful thing, and mine has been called terrible.

And while the bird’s migration and the world which the author has foreseen is fascinating, the story of Franny, her mother, her loss, her husband and how she dealt with trauma was so incredibly well done. The water, the cold, the desolation was beautifully depicted. Each character, including each crew member of the boat was well drawn but Franny a complex character was the one who I was with the whole way.

I asked Niall once what he thought happened to us after we die, and he said nothing, only decomposition, only evaporation. I asked him what he thought it meant for our lives, for how we spend them, for what they mean. He said our lives mean nothing except as a cycle of regeneration, that we are incomprehensively brief sparks, just as the animals are, that we are no more important that they are, no more worthy of life than any living creature. That in our self-importance, in our search for meaning, we have forgotten how to share the planet that gave us life.

Themes of love, loss, survival and hope are compelling and bit by bit a moving yet gripping story slowly emerges to climax with an incredible ending.

Yes! This one I really, really loved. I think you might too.

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