The Fiction Fox
Review: The Stranding - Kate Sawyer
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, Literary Fiction
Published: Hodder & Stoughton, June 2021
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
"Everything needs an ending. We are the end.”
In the shadow of an ongoing pandemic, post-apocalyptic fiction seems to have undergone a rapid evolution: bleak apocalypses like The Road or The Stand are falling out of favour, to make room for more hopeful stories of humanity and resilience against all odds. My favourite has always been Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, but I’m happy to now be able to add The Stranding to that list as well.
The Stranding departs from, and repeatedly spirals back around towards “The End”. On a empty beach in New Zealand, two strangers take shelter in the carcass of a beached whale in a desperate attempt at survival, as an apocalyptic wave of light devours human life as we knew it. What follows is a deeply evocative and haunting story about the blossoming dynamic between the (possibly) only two survivors of a worldwide catastrophe and their tentative steps to adapt, start over, and turn “surviving” back into “living” again.
The novel is written in alternating chapters, jumping back and forth between two time lines: Before and After. In the Before, we follow Ruth’s life leading up to and towards the end. A claustrophobic relationship, an unstable political and environmental climate and many other relatable anxieties of modern day life lead her to the beach where she finds the stranded whale on that faithful day.
In the After, we follow Ruth and Nik as they emerge from whale and build a new life from the literal bones of their old world.
With so much skill in both narrative structure and prose, the fact that this is Kate Sawyers debut novel boggles my mind. Their were so many ways this novel could have stranded (pardon the pun) along the way: the transverse timelines could have been confusing, the story incohesive and the survival elements could have been at risk of being overly romanticized. Yet Sawyer navigated it all so skilfully that the end result is a debut novel very close to perfection. I deeply hope to see more of her work in the future.
The Stranding is a beautifully crafted allegorical tale of survival, perseverance and the acceptance of change that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with an Advanced Readers Copy in exchange for an honest review.