The Migration by Helen Marshall
Book Review by Tracy Robinson
“Memory is a tricky thing. It isn’t a ruler, a hard, straight line…It isn’t neat and tidy. It’s more like murmurs, voices whispering in the darkness” (7).
The Migration takes place mainly in England, at the brink of the apocalypse. I adore post-apocalyptic fiction and it was refreshing to read a book that only deals with the time leading up to the absolute destruction – a unique take on one of the most used sub-genres.
Definitely a character study and a treatise on modern day society, The Migration is a good read. The first ¾ of the book absolutely captivated me. I read almost 300 pages in one day. Personally, some of the relationships in the second half of the book lost me; I much preferred the tone, content, and style of the other sections. Reading is subjective, of course, so what didn’t work for me will likely be a favorite for another reader. I also am unsure of what genre to put this under: Sci-fi? Horror? YA?. So I won’t. Nothing is gained by pigeon-holing it into what I think it is; the story remains the same. So let’s get back to the book.
“The angel looks bored rigid by the whole mess, the angel has seen it all: the culling of the firstborns, the slaughter of the innocents. The angel doesn’t care. Mortality isn’t his bag” (78).
Interspersed throughout the novel are moments that juxtapose scientific descriptions, historical and relevant Black Plague information and moral/religious considerations. Because at the beginning of the end, where do people turn? Science. History. Religion. Why and how did society reach this point? What comes next? I like that Marshall poses these questions without providing answers. Because there likely aren’t any answers. I was able to make connections between the real history and the occurrences in the novel on my own. The author’s own scholarship surrounding the subject absolutely shines through and became one of my favorite aspects of the story. Scholarship, you ask? Marshall completed a “postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford to study manuscripts written during the time of the Black Death” (Always Trust in Books), so yeah, she knows her “stuff”.
“I can still smell rot mixed with formaldehyde: vinegary, like day-old wine, spoiled meat” (93).
Power of description is one area in which Marshall shines. I think I jotted down 25 odd quotes within the first 150 pages – they are just that good. As the book nears the end of its trajectory some of the descriptions get a bit too ethereal for my tastes, it seemed to be all detail and I struggled to hang on to what was happening. It fits the story, however, so again this is just my personal experience.
“When writers imagine apocalyptic futures they’re trying to illuminate what’s already embedded in their own society beneath the surface” (156).
The above is one of my favorite quotes. I like it when things get a little bit meta. I mentioned earlier that apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic is one of my absolute favorite subgenres, and this quote was too perfect not to share. Because I think it’s absolutely spot-on. I’m not a writer, beyond reviews, but I am a reader, and this speaks to why over half of this book resonates with me. Helen Marshall makes this all believable: the science, her impeccable use of historical events, the real glimpses of our modern day society played out in this fictional world.
I was pleased to discover that Marshall has previous works; I will definitely be checking them out. Although parts of this book didn’t quite work for me, I love her writing and I’m interested in seeing what else is out there. Thank you to Titan and the author for sending me a copy of this book for review consideration.