The Inconvenient But Inevitable Truth
For years, we have been grappling with the consequences of perpetual pursuit for increased modernization and industrialization. With the exponential growth of human population and the evolution of technology is the adverse impact on our environment. The symptoms are all there: many species of animals are going extinct at an alarming rate , the surface temperature on earth is continuously increasing, hurricanes and typhoons are getting all more powerful and destructive, many of our resources we once thought were abundant are getting more scarce. We have even coined terms for this phenomenon: climate change and global warming. However, despite the signs, majority of us has remained oblivious to the changes happening around us.
In the world of fiction, a new specie of fiction tackling this global concern has started to gain prominence and some level of recognition. Climate novels, as they are collectively called, are not as well loved as the other literary genre but they are slowly creating their own niche. In 2020, Australian speculative fiction writer Charlotte McConaghy lent her voice into the steadily growing literary genre. Set in the near future, McConaghy’s, American debut, Migrations, follows the story of Franny Stone, an ornithologist. Due to climate change, wildlife population has begun to dwindle, some on the brink of extinction. One of these animals on the cusp of extinction are the Arctic terns. In what perhaps might be their final migration, Franny embarks on a journey to track and map their final flight.
Tracking the Arctic terns, however, is no easy task. Franny endured the freezing tundra of Greenland alone in a tent. In hopes of understanding the terns, she lived like one until her tent was blown away. Contemplating how to track the terns, she encountered Ennis Malone. He was literally her salvation for Ennis is the captain of Saghani, a fishing boat embarking for a fishing expedition. Franny was able to persuade Malone into taking her on board and after some heated debate with the crew, she managed to convince them to alter their route. They relented on the promise that in tracking the tern’s path, the crew will find fish, a commodity that has started dwindling in numbers. Arctic terns, after all, have earned the reputation for seeking out large fish shoals.
“We are, all of us, given such a brief moment of time together, it hardly seems fair. But it’s precious, and maybe it’s enough, and maybe it’s right that our bodies dissolve into the earth, giving our energy back to it, feeding the little creatures in the ground and giving nutrients to the soil, and maybe it’s right that our consciousness rests. The thought is peaceful.”~ Charlotte McConaghy, Migrations
McConaghy’s passion for writing began at a young age. In her native of Australia, she has published several SFF works while working in script development. Apart from writing, she was also passionate about the environment, especially the extinction of wildlife and the impact of climate change. She channeled both her passion for writing and for the environment in her first venture into the adult literary genre, Migrations. Migrations, published as The Last Migration in the UK and in Australia, was also her debut in the American literary scene. Like Franny, in crossing vast oceans, she was hoping to gain a broader audience for her advocacies.
With the impact of climate change becoming more apparent with each passing year, it cannot be denied that it is a pressing concern that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. As this phenomenon is becoming a global crisis, global leaders have converged to address this growing concern over the years. Several initiatives, conventions and protocols have been instituted and introduced to help curb the impending crisis. Despite these initiatives, we are still lightyears away from coming up with a solution that will truly address this concern. This is on top of the reluctance of several superpowers, ironically the biggest contributors to our carbon imprint, in stepping up their own measures.
A seminal part of this campaign on climate change is educating the public. In an effort to enlighten the public of the realities that are gripping us, former US Vice President Al Gore produced his popular 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The documentary gave an insightful and in-depth analysis of the consequences of our action and our perpetual inaction. It was a grim outlook of what the future will look like should we remain sedentary. The consequences extend far and beyond the present and beyond humans. It has become more imperative to extend information through all means and media. The movie industry hast started doing its part and now, literature, over the past couple of years, has also forayed into the discourse about climate change.
In stark dichotomy to what was expected, Migrations took a different turn. It was bereft of the urgency or the panic prevalent in many a man versus Mother Earth narrative. Whilst there was a race against time, there was very little tension flowing through the narrative. Apropos the discourse on climate change, there was an uncharacteristic calm to the story. The impact of climate change was ubiquitous – the declining numbers of wildlife, the deafening silence of the wilderness. In her non-linear narrative, McConaghy was aiming for a different approach on a discussion that has become cliched.
“Even though they are as varied as a group of people can be, I can tell they are the same, all of these sailors. Something was missing in their lives on land, and they went seeking the answer. Whatever it was, I don’t doubt for a second that they each found it. They are migrants of land, and they love it out here on an ocean that offered them a different way of life, they love this boat, and, as much as they may bicker and fight, they love each other.”~ Charlotte McConaghy, Migrations
Seminal to the understanding of the narrative is the unveiling of the veneer wrapped around Franny Stone. Who is she and why and how did she end up on Greenland’s tundral landscape? With the narrative diverging from a seemingly singular thread to two distinct threads, this veil shrouding Franny’s real identity was slowly pierced. Before joining Saghani, Franny seemed like a lost soul who was uncertain of her real destination. She had no inkling on what to do with her life. As the narrative weaves to and fro the present and the past, her journey to her current destination was revealed. Sailing towards uncharted territories, more details about Franny’s past started to come into light. With a suspenseful tempo, bits and pieces of the big puzzle are revealed.
What prevailed was the picture of a scarred soul born with the proclivity to wander, her destination not one but many. Franny grew up in an environment where abandonment, both physical and emotional, was prevalent. This abandonment drove her to find some semblance of belongingness at a young age. However, it only taught her to escape through various media. Her longing for a family led her to her ecologist-husband, Niall. Saghani’s motley crew also extended to her this same familial sense of belongingness. Franny’s journey has underscored that home is not a physical place nor is it anchored on the ground. Home can be anywhere, as long as we are wrapped up in the love of the people who cares for and cherishes us.
The narrative was largely propelled by Franny, her complex character, and her melancholic voice. McConaghy did a commendable job in imbuing her with her love for nature and the outdoors. She was an imperfect character, with a past that has scarred her. However, she never let the past drag her down. Her silent courage and determination reverberated all throughout her journey with the eccentric Saghani crew. McConaghy’s uncanny ability of sketching and developing memorable characters translated well beyond Franny. In the crew of Saghani, she gave a microcosm for diverse characters and personalities, where the polar opposites, the mysterious, and the convivial coexist to survive. The variety elevated the narrative and made Franny’s personal journey more compelling.
All these elements were wonderfully and wonderfully woven together by McConaghy’s storytelling in a lush tapestry. With clarity, she wrote a narrative that is both captivating and insightful. Her lyrical quality of her prose resulted into an atmospheric narrative. McConaghy managed to pull off what many find challenging – making the readers immerse in the narrative. She transported the readers to the pages of the book, situating them with Franny as she dived into the waters of Greenland, in Saghani as they sail in search of the terns and of fish. Through vivid images, McConaghy made the readers part of Franny and the Saghani’s adventure. The prose also made emotions flow and flourish and it can all be credited to McConaghy’s writing.
“We are, all of us, given such a brief moment of time together, it hardly seems fair. But it’s precious, and maybe it’s enough, and maybe it’s right that our bodies dissolve into the earth, giving our energy back to it, feeding the little creatures in the ground and giving nutrients to the soil, and maybe it’s right that our consciousness rests.”~ Charlotte McConaghy, Migrations
Migrations is a multifaceted narrative. It is, first and foremost, a climate novel but it is also the melancholic tale of a woman who never fully settled because of the scars left behind by her past. Her grief commenced a perpetual journey to find semblances of family and belongingness, even just crumbs of it. She was born with a wanderlust, her destination unknown. It is the wonderful journey of a young woman whose life is slowly coming full circle in the company of an eccentric set of characters. Migrations was also a mystery novel that unfolded as one turns the pages. Ultimately, it was also a love story, and an ode for a planet that is slowly descending towards tumult.
Many a literary pundit has named Migrations as one of the best, if not the best, novel of 2020. It is a novel about nature and the wilderness imbued with a timely and seminal subject. The Saghani sailing towards uncharted waters to track the tern evokes images of Captain Ahab pursuing Moby Dick. The reference to the literary classic underscore how the actions of the past have resulted to irreversible impact on our environment. However, rather than a call for a collective environmental action, Migrations is a cautionary tale, a necessary tale to remind us of the seminal role we play in the fight against climate change.
To most, Migrations is a predictable story. However, in its predictability we are reminded of the inevitability of the realities within its ambit. It is a grim diagnosis of what the future looks like should we remain oblivious to the changes that are happening all around us.
Characters (30%) – 26%
Plot (30%) – 25%
Writing (25%) – 23%
Overall Impact (15%) – 12%
I was gliding through 2020 at a brisk pace when I encountered Charlotte McConaghy’s Migrations. I have never heard of McConaghy before nor have I heard or read about any of her previous works. Midway through 2020, I encountered Migrations and its cold blue cover. Many a literary pundit have touted it as the best work of 2020. This, naturally, has piqued my interest but I held back for, from the title alone, I already had an inkling on what the book was about. However, a couple of months later, as the year was drawing to a close, I finally decided to give the book a chance. I bought the book and made it part of an uncharacteristic reading year where I read more “new” books than I ever had before. The book, at the start, felt mundane but as it moved forward, the more it starts to get interesting. Yes, the book is about the impact of climate change on our ecosystem. It is a cautionary tale that needs to be told and McConaghy did well in stirring this timely and seminal work.
Author: Charlotte McConaghy
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publishing Date: 2020
Number of Pages: 254
Genre: Climate Fiction
Franny Stone has always been a wanderer. By following the ocean’s tides and the birds that soar above, she can forget the losses that have haunted her life. But when the wild she loves begins to disappear, Franny can no longer wander without a destination. She arrives in remote Greenland with one purpose: to find the world’s last flock of Arctic terns and track their final migration. She convinces Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani, to take her on board, winning over his eccentric crew with promises that the birds will lead them to fish.
As the Saghani fights its way south, Franny’s dark history begins to unspool. When her quest threatens the safety of the entire crew, Franny must herself what she is really running toward – and running from. Propelled by a narrator as fierce and fragile as the terns she if following, Migrations is both an ode to our threatened world and a breathtaking page-turner about the lengths we will go to for the people we love.
About the Author
Charlotte McConaghy is a Sydney-based author. McConaghy has a Graduate degree in Screenwriting and a Masters in Screen Arts. She earned her Masters Degree in Screenwriting from the Australian Film Television and Radio School.
McConaghy’s interest and passion for writing begun when she was young. She carried on her passion into adulthood, writing primarily speculative and fantasy fiction whilst juggling her job in script development for both film and television. Her SFF works were published in Australia. In 2020, she made her literary breakthrough as her first adult literary fiction, Migrations, was published in the United States. It was her first work to be published across the Pacific. The novel was published as The Last Migration in the United Kingdom and Australia. In August 2021, her second novel, Once There Were Wolves will be published.
Apart from writing, McConaghy has a passion for the wildlife and for the pressing concerns brought about by climate change.