Review: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

book with river behind it

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. 

In the Woods and mood reading!

Anna: It’s finally (slowly!) feeling a bit more like fall! 

As cooler weather approaches, I’ve been in the mood for crime fiction. This is the second Tana French novel I’ve read in a month. The first in her Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods follows Detective Bob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox as they investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl found dead in the woods…the same woods where Ryan’s two childhood friends went missing years before. I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Witch Elm, but I’ve heard this series only gets better, and I think it’s one I could easily binge this fall.

Are you a mood reader?

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Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney is a book that one hundred percent deserves all the hype! I read Conversations with Friends last year, and it was one of my favorite books of 2018. I couldn’t wait for this one to come out, and I preordered my copy from a local independent bookstore.

Normal People lived up to all my expectations and maybe even exceeded them. Sally Rooney has such a literary talent, and I love her writing style. Her characters are unique but–dare I say it–original. Set in Ireland, this novel captures the joy, anxieties and difficulties of college life perfectly.

This follows Marianne and Connell’s relationship over many years, beginning in the Irish equivalent of high school and continuing through the end of college or university. Marianne and Connell have an intense and complicated relationship that began in secret because Connell was popular in high school and Marianne was not. This dynamic shifted when they went to university, creating an undertone of shame, jealousy, and insecurity that they must continually grapple with.

A prevailing theme in Rooney’s writing is the role that miscommunication plays in relationships. She also frequently writes about how differences in social class, the presence of mental illness, and time abroad and apart affect and change relationships. It’s difficult to describe what happens in this book, because it’s kind of about everything. I love how Rooney writes about everyday life so simply but beautifully, and I loved, loved, loved these two quirky central characters.

I cannot wait until her next book!

VERDICT: 5 books

Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue


This is a spoiler free review!

It’s 1859, and English nurse Lib Wright takes on a mysterious case in rural Ireland. She’s assigned a devout little girl, Anna, who claims to be living without food, under God’s will. Lib’s job is to watch the girl at all hours and report to a committee if she is sneaking food or not. Lib arrives expecting to catch the girl sneaking food within a matter of hours. But as Lib becomes more involved in the girl’s life she begins to see that this religious family is far from what it seems.

I picked this book up in the $1 section of the Strand when I was living in New York. I haven’t read Donoghue’s wildly successful book, Room, but I both love and am horrified by the movie. I found myself picking up the British edition of The Wonder when I was studying publishing in Oxford, England after college. It has one of those semi-vague descriptions that somehow is totally intriguing. I’ve had this book on my radar for a while. I was excited to also read an Irish author for the first time.

I think good historical novels are such an accomplishment, and this one captures religious tension between Catholics and Protestants, as well as the cultural differences and prejudices between the English and Irish. One of the biggest endeavors this book takes on is exposing hypocrisy in religion and and warning against the danger of extremism. The protagonist, Lib, does not identify with any faith or God herself, which alienates her, but also often allows her to act as one of the only characters to think and see clearly. As a nurse, she also represents science and rational thought.

This book doesn’t portray Catholics in good light, to say the least. Anna’s family is devout to the point of desiring sainthood over the health and life of their own daughter. Though Donahue exposes the dangers of religious extremism, she doesn’t completely criticize against religion as a whole. Anna herself becomes a dear friend to Lib, who has never allowed herself intimacy with a patient before. Lib recognizes and admires Anna’s good character and extreme bravery and strength. Lib’s love interest, Byrne, identifies as a deeply religious man, who is still able to see the dire consequences of the family’s extremist behavior. These two good characters prove that Donoghue does not condemn all faith as a whole, which I appreciate.

Donoghue also scrutinizes men in positions of power. Both the town’s head doctor and the priest are exposed as self-serving and using Anna’s publicity for their own means. They both are privy to ghastly and private information concerning Anna’s physical health that they conceal for the sake of town peace.

Another overarching theme is the question of if a mother/parent always has the child’s best interest at heart.

One of the things I love about The Wonder is that it kept me guessing up until the end. I didn’t think Lib’s own backstory is as compelling as it could have been, and it’s also easy to guess from the beginning. This book is so unique, and I would recommend it for a suspenseful, intelligent, and atmospheric read.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books