BOOK REVIEW: The Migration by Helen Marshall

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The world is besieged by natural disasters, a disease that affects only the young is spreading, and tragedy appears at the forefront of everyone’s lives.

The Migration is a wonderfully skilful novella that combines an elegiac beauty with an overarching sense of societal menace. Written from the perspective of Sophie, a sixteen-year-old girl who is uprooted from her life in Toronto when her younger sister develops an insidious disease, the narrative seamlessly moves between past and present as she reflects on life before and future fates.

The heart of this book, and the area where Marshall’s skill really shines through, is when dealing with the scenes and sentiments of grief, worry and hope. Every emotion is depicted with a rawness that really resonates and is handled with a great deal of care. I believe it is more geared towards a YA market, and the sensitive handling of these themes brings the idea of mortality into sharp focus in a way that many authors shy away from. The adolescent perspective is incredibly moving, especially with the relationship between an older and younger sibling, which avoids the melodramatic and instead feel totally grounded and very real.

There is also an element of science fiction that I wasn’t expecting, which highlights the underlying menace that runs through the narrative.  While on one hand you have a sense of hope, rebirth and evolution, there is a counterpoint of close-mindedness which, when looked at against the more fantastical elements, heightens the mundanity of those minds. As the world changes and some people adapt, there is also a dystopic atmosphere that starts to rise within the society which feels scarily real at times. I think with this blend of the mundane and fantastical Marshall has created a wonderful fable pointing out the flaws in our world that acts as a backdrop to a moving tale of life, love, and sisterhood.

The Migration is published by Titan Books and is available here.

Helen Marshall

HELEN MARSHALL is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of two short story collections and two poetry chapbooks. Her stories and poetry have appeared in magazines and anthologies including Abyss & Apex, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Tor.com. She obtained a PhD from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, and then spent two years completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford investigating literature written during the time of the Black Death. Helen has worked as a managing editor for ChiZine Publications, and was recently hired as a permanent Lecturer in Creative Writing and Publishing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. She grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, and now resides in Cambridge.

Reviewed by Amber Mears Brown

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