Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: Flatiron Books, August 2020
My Rating: 5/5 stars, New all-time Favourite
“It isn’t fair to be the kind of creature who is able to love but unable to stay.”
I write this review, cheeks flushed in shame, as I’ve proven myself again to be a very inadequate reviewer. I’ve owned 2 copies of this book (an ARC and a pre-ordered finished copy) since September, I’ve gifted this book to 3 other people, and I’ve included it in my Favourites of 2020. Yet everytime I try write a coherent review, I royally fail to pen down my feelings about this extraordinary feat of a novel.
This novel is a combined narrative of both a woman and a world at the brink of collapse. We follow Franny Stone, who talks her way onto a northbound fishing vessel as an ornithologist to follow the last migration of the few remaining arctic sterns she’s been studying for years. As the shores disappear behind the horizon, and the inhospitable arctic ocean is all around them, we slowly get to know the crew and Franny herself; each of them scarred by life and the elements, and each chasing more than simply birds of fish alone.
Although I enjoyed the story that was being told, I adored the way it was being told. Charlotte McConaghy’s prose and talent for storytelling are striking. At times flowing like a steady undercurrent, at times jostling you about like knobbly waves of an ocean storm. Emotional punches vicious as the arctic wind and profound in their haunting echo’s.
It’s rare for me to feel emotions as strong as the ones I did reading this book. Although very flawed, Franny is one of my favourite and most well-written characters of the year, and her journey is one so laced through with raw emotion that I couldn’t help but relate to her. It covers grief, passion turned obsession, unrest and homesickness, and the desperation to stay even though every instinct tells you to run.
Not only is this a new all-time favourite novel for me personally, it’s also the literary fiction book I’ve recommended the most (within just these past few months) out of all the ones I read this year. Please, if you enjoy provocative prose and deeply atmospheric “cold-ocean-settings”: you should read it. If you enjoy nature writing combined with an intimate character portrait of a person carrying the weight of their past on their shoulders: you should read it. If you’re a fan of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour or Abby Geni’s The Lightkeepers: what are you waiting for, here’s your next favourite.
Many thanks to Flatiron Books for putting this gem into the world, and in my hands! I cannot wait to see what their catalogue, as well as this author bring next.