book with river behind it

Review: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

VERDICT: 2 stars

Trigger warnings: Suicide, Sexual Assault

I’ve wanted to read Migrations since before its release. It has great ratings on Goodreads, which proves that you need to take ratings with a grain of salt. I did, however, see a 1 star review from a trusted reviewer. Because of the dystopian aspect, I wanted to read this for myself.

I was disappointed. 

The actual style of the writing is the only thing I liked about this book. It’s lyrical yet concise. But there are glaring holes in the world building and the plot. Then there’s the biggest problem-Franny.

Migrations alternates between two timelines: the past and present. In the present, almost all animals have gone extinct in the world. There aren’t many fish left, and people who still fish are hated. Franny worms her way onto a fishing ship to follow the last migration of Arctic Terns. She tells the captain she is an orithinogist, and that she thinks the Arctic terns will lead them to fish. She is right, for the most part, so she stays on the boat.

We are introduced to Franny’s tumultuous childhood in Ireland. Her mom disappeared when she was young, and she lived with her father’s mother in Australia. Back in Ireland, Franny sits in on at University and meets the love of her life- Insta love style. She and Niall marry immediately, but very quickly it’s a struggle for Franny to stay. 

Franny is the most unlikable narrator I have ever encountered. There is nothing redeeming about her. She is so chaotic that she’s not even a believable character. And the author’s excuse for her behavior? She’s a “wanderer”. She’s unable to stay in one place. Why? It’s in her blood.

SPOILERS: Franny’s defining character trait is violence. She sleepwalks and attempts to strangle Niall in her sleep. She’s in jail for  murder, and it’s unclear if it was on purposeful or not. She also managed to kill two more people over the course of the present narrative. And yet. Franny is a wonderful swimmer and saves multiple people from drowning over the course of the story as well. Her character is completely unpredictable but predisposed to destroy and leave. 

In the past, we know that Franny served time in prison. It’s eventually revealed why. She (accidently?) rammed headfirst into another car, killing Niall and the woman in the other car. Franny claims she did it on purpose. Then she reveals that she saw an owl, which distracted her from the road. Franny is an unreliable narrator, so we don’t really know. Which brings me to my next point. 

Niall, Franny’s husband, is seemingly okay with the fact that Franny will just leave him when she feels she has to. By the end, we are made to understand their relationship is like this-Franny is a wild thing, possibly a bird, possibly something else. She is untamed. Niall is a scientist and by trapping Franny, he’s able to study her closely. But Franny, being a wild thing, kills him in the end.

Franny succeeds(?) in following the birds to their last migration. destroying everything else around her in the process. She plans to spread Niall’s ashes into the sea there. She also plans on killing herself. She spreads the ashes, and then submerges herself, fully intending to end it. But she doesn’t. The book ends with her being released from prison for the second time of her life. Her dad, who has never been part of her life and who is a convicted killer herself, is waiting to pick her up. They drive off together.

Then there’s the complete and utter lack of worldbuilding. This is apparently set in the not-so-far future in which climate change and human behavior has made most animals in the world extinct. For some reason, fishermen have received the bulk of the blame for this act (maybe because there are still some fish in the ocean? It’s not very well explained). This could have been such a rich world and the extinction of the animals could have added another layer to Franny’s story. Instead, the state of the world is barely acknowledged throughout the story. 

Overall: With more developed worldbuilding, maybe I could have forgiven some of Franny’s erratic behavior in this book. Or maybe not. Either way, I don’t recommend reading this. Migration’s book description first reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni. After reading Migrations, they can’t be compared. Save yourself the pain and read the Lightkeepers instead. 

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