Migrations: Crossing Through Ice

Charlotte McConaghy, an established writer from Australia, marks her American debut with this novel, Migrations.  In it, Franny Stone is on a mission to track the very last existing Arctic terns in their migration from Greenland to Antarctica. Most of the journey is on board a fishing vessel, the Saghani, captained by the colorful Ennis Malone. On their epic journey, we learn of Franny’s past in Ireland and Australia. Told in beautiful imagery and fine prose, this story—which will be translated to film soon—is moving and mysterious. One more thing: it’s set in the near future and animals are becoming extinct.

Jennifer: Well, easy stuff first. I loved it. All of it. What did you think? Strengths? Weaknesses?

Lara: I was weary heading into this book, which I was reading not for this column, but for my personal book club. Still well into the pandemic, and a recent conversation about how much I loathe Moby Dick, I was not looking forward to a boat-bound story. And birds? Meh. I don’t love them. Did I tell you my dogs presented me with a huge dead one at the foot of my bed this summer?

All this to say, McConaghy is a miracle wordsmither. I loved it. I want to read it again and I never want to do that, even with my most favorite books.

What did you love? Did you have any hesitation going in?

Jennifer: My hesitation was probably like yours. I mean, nothing against birds, per se—but I was, like, Nature? Migration patterns? On a boat?

But it all worked out . . . I loved it. I loved the characters. I loved her writing; it’s beautiful. I think it’s an adventure, a mystery, a love story. It’s a book for travel-lovers. It’s for academic- types and backpackers too. I actually think it’ll be a beautiful film. I hope it will . . . It struck me as a little too PC sometimes, but that’s okay. The boat’s crew seemed demographically too balanced, a tad construed. Nonetheless, I was sucked in. I loved the different settings—from Ireland to cracking icebergs. I loved hearing about Franny’s background. The love story and the mystery thoroughly sucked me in.

Lara: I think what McConnaghy has done here has built a story the way nature builds an onion. Layer upon layer, that she slowly peels away. You learn more about the ship’s crew and Franny. She has some secrets and they are expertly revealed in a way that’s both compelling and wholly satisfying, if not a bit heartbreaking.

Jennifer: Expertly revealed.

You know, I’m also a big sucker for dystopian, and I think this might be Dystopian Lite. Just a bit too much global warning has affected the planet. Fishing is seen like poaching, and there really aren’t too many fish left. Wild animals are not around. It’s an intriguing scenario, and it’s set in a wholly “normal” world to us—not Hunger Games-y or like a Gilead. It’s our world without animals.

Lara: Yeah, the timeline took a bit to get used to. Once I understood that it was in the near future, and the world was experiencing loss of species, I could follow along. I was thankful that it wasn’t full-on dystopian. I was able to suspend my disbelief for this, which you know is hard for me to do.

Jennifer: I guess one could say the weaknesses are time-jumps (though I was okay with it), and the cultural context was not fully explained. It took me a while to get it.

Did you see Seaspiracy on Netflix? One of my kids no longer eats fish, as a result.

Lara: I haven’t seen it. I don’t eat fish because they creep me out. But that’s for another day. Let’s talk about the writing.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

“According to Mam, inside the pages of a novel lived the only beauty offered up by the world.”

… and…

“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.”

… and…

“A life’s impact can be measured by what it gives the and what it leaves behind, but it can also be measured by what it steals from the world.”

Jennifer: I do think the writing was great, and I feel as if I’ve gotten even pickier in the last few years. Right now, in August 2021 (we’re meeting for the first time in person in at least eighteen months—both vaccinated), I can identify my top three favorite reads of the year so far, and I’m demanding a lot. I think I now demand a kind of absorption I didn’t previously demand. I don’t want to be partially seduced; I want to be fully absorbed. I would put this book in my Top Three of the year right now.

Rather than pinpoint a specific passage, I guess I might suggest that her writing is sharp and, um, crisp. Here’s her writing on this fishing vessel (and keep in mind that she hates the act of fishing, a pillaging of the sea):

“The Saghani powers slowly through thick ice off the coast of Greenland, splintering it into huge chunks that will be expelled from our path. The sound is like nothing I have ever heard. Great cracks rend the sky, huge whooshes, and always the persistent rumble of sea and engine combined.”

I think that’s a tactile, nearly audible passage!

Lara: It’s a fantastic passage! You can actually hear what’s going on. And I got a little chilly, honestly!

Jennifer: So were you into the love story?

Lara: One. Hundred. Percent. It crept up on you, didn’t it? And it kind of broke me in two. What did you think?

Jennifer: Me too. I have a thing for Irish peeps, on a side-note. I probably gasped aloud at home. It’s a very beautiful story.

I mean, let’s not ignore this either. You don’t eat fish because it creeps you out. I get that. We tried vegan for about two minutes. Jackfruit—which is non-animal—grossed my husband and I out. My daughter gave up fish, but ate a lobster roll in Maine.

Do books like this affect your lifestyle? There’s an agenda here. What do you think?

Lara: I don’t think there’s “an agenda” here. I think McConaghy is writing about issues she cares about and it does cause you to think. But I don’t think she’s trying to convert everyone to wildlife preservation.

Jennifer: Oh, I bet there’s an agenda, but I’m fine with leaving it at that. I would like to know if she eats meat. And I am interested in scrutinizing my own meat-eating. I don’t think it’s so minor.

We definitely “experiment” at home. And I’m still thinking about why a buffalo burger once made me nauseous, but Five Guys is pure heaven? Is this irrelevant? I don’t think so. There’s a scene in the book where a wolf is seen in the wild, and it makes the news. I understand this love, this desire for awareness. I admire this author’s treading lightly on icy terrain.

What else are you reading?

Lara: This was the best book I have read recently. I did enjoy a few mysteries, Playing Nice by JP Delaney and The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave were both engaging and different than the typical thriller. I also read Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. I liked it. Based on the buzz, I should have loved it. I wanted to love it. I say read it, if you love her (she’s written a few books). I just started two books I am interested in: Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes and our next book pick.

Have you read anything that drew you in the way Migrations did? If not, still share what you read or started and set aside.

Jennifer:  Migrations was my favorite recently too.  I really enjoyed Aria by Nazanine Hozar—pretty epic read on pre-Islamic Revolutionary Iran. I’ve gotten into a little phase of reading books by the late Rachel Held Evans, and I think she was great. I read Night Film by Marisha Pessl, and it was long, well-written, and not my thing. I’m reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson right now. Lots of books. This and Rachel were the high-points.

Next Month!

Join us next time when we come together to talk about: Wayward by Dana Spiotta. Until then, happy reading Snotties!


Can’t get enough of Snotty Literati? Follow us on Facebook!

Want to read more from Jennifer? Check her out at www.jenniferspiegel.com

Want to see what Lara is up to? Stay right here at www.onelitchick.com