As part of our monthly recommendation series, Kaitlyn Whitsitt explains why Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy will have you reaching for the tissues.
Have you ever read a book that completely broke you down and then built you up, pulling you out of a reading slump because it was just so well-constructed? Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy was that book for me. I missed my train-stop an embarrassing number of times this past summer, having been pulled into McConaghy’s prescient world. There is little preface I can give this book other than forewarning you that reading it will be an emotional journey for both you and the characters it follows.
As someone who personally enjoys reading books with as little knowledge as possible about the plot, I’ll vaguely frame the book’s themes for those with a similar habit. This is a story about compassion and human complexity, trauma and loneliness, witnessing nature and its absence, learning to keep living and keep trying, and the necessity of understanding. It is a novel so achingly full and void of hope, so hauntingly meticulous, insightfully raw and reminiscent.
“It is a novel so achingly full and void of hope, so hauntingly meticulous, insightfully raw and reminiscent.”
Delving a little deeper, Migrations centres around Irish-Australian Franny Lynch’s desperate attempt to follow what is predicted to be the Arctic tern’s last migration to Antarctica during the fall-out of the climate crisis. Described by The Economist as “the Moby Dick for the age of climate change,” the novel details Lynch’s past and present psychological battles, intricately lacing together her experiences and those of the surrounding cast of characters. I would clarify that, where Moby Dick centres its battles around the hubris of mankind’s yearning for power over nature, Migrations sets this central theme as its setting, the backdrop of humanity’s actions. Its main plot instead explores coping with this battle and with being human. In doing this, McConaghy painstakingly insists that that battle to overpower nature is futile, emphasizing the ordeal of reconnecting with each other and the world.
The story of the novel intersperses past and present to dive into the mind of Lynch and to unfold the pasts of the crew of the fishing ship she employs to help her reach Antarctica. It is the relationships between the pasts and goals of these central characters that drive McConaghy’s insistence on the subsisting good in humanity. As governments globally continue to shut down fishing, a great source of environmental exploitation, McConaghy sees the fishers as people, remaining aware of the destructive nature of their trade, but asking the world to listen and be compassionate. This is a book about loss, but also about connections, discourse, and acceptance. McConaghy masterfully constructs a story so personal and so universal, so painful and so inspiring. There is no way I can describe it but that it is utterly human. And although the Anthropocene is destructive to itself and its surroundings, it is also a force of hope. McConaghy’s novel asks us to listen to and understand each other so that we might collaborate and survive. Simply seeing each other as human beings is unavoidable if we wish to make a change.