The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

Reviewed by
August 2020, no. 423
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J.R. Burgmann reviews 'The Last Migration' by Charlotte McConaghy

The Last Migration

by Charlotte McConaghy

Hamish Hamilton, $32.99 pb, 272 pp

Buy this book

The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

Reviewed by
August 2020, no. 423

Towards the end of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory (2018), Richard Powers attempts to articulate why literature, or more precisely the novel, has struggled to encompass climate change: ‘To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs. No: life is mobilized on a vastly larger scale, and the world is failing precisely because no novel can make the contest for the world seem as compelling as the struggles between a few lost people.’

As with climate change, it is the human side of this equation, according to Powers, that is the true variable; literature, to quote Katy Waldman, ‘has always been a humanist endeavour … intrinsically and helplessly affirm[ing] the values of the species’. In other words, storytelling – like our carbon emissions – will shift only insofar as our species does. This is an apt framework through which to view Charlotte McConaghy’s literary début (she has written a number of Young Adult fantasy novels), a novel torn between the struggles of a few individuals and the larger, ineffable backdrop of climate change and disastrous species loss.

J.R. Burgmann reviews 'The Last Migration' by Charlotte McConaghy

The Last Migration

by Charlotte McConaghy

Hamish Hamilton, $32.99 pb, 272 pp

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