Gather your book club and find out why everyone is talking about The Last Migration.
This compelling debut novel is set on the brink of catastrophe, as a young woman chases the world’s last birds – and her own final chance for redemption. Franny Stone is determined to go to the end of the earth, following the last of the Arctic terns on what may be their final migration to Antarctica. Take your book club along on this extraordinary journey.
Discussion points and questions:
- The novel’s epigraph is taken from a poem by the thirteenth-century Persian scholar, Rumi: ‘Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.’ How does that directive resonate throughout Franny’s life? Do you think it’s good advice?
- We are living in the Anthropocene, the current era during which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and environment. This is alluded to in the novel’s opening lines: ‘The animals are dying. Soon we will be alone here.’ How does the disappearance of wildlife in mass extinctions shape the characters and plot? Would you describe this novel as dystopian? Why or why not?
- Arctic terns have the longest natural migration of any animal, and during their lives they may travel the equivalent distance of to the moon and back three times. What do Arctic terns symbolise in the novel, and what is so appealing about them to Franny and Niall?
- The first time Franny sees Niall lecture, he quotes Margaret Atwood: ‘We ate the birds. We ate them. We wanted their songs to flow up through our throats and burst out of our mouths, and so we ate them. We wanted their feathers to bud from our flesh. We wanted their wings, we wanted to fly as they did, soar freely among the treetops and the clouds, and so we ate them. We speared them, we clubbed them, we tangled their feet in glue, we netted them, we spitted them, we threw them onto hot coals, and all for love, because we loved them. We wanted to be one with them.’ Why does he pick this passage? How do the themes of love and destruction echo throughout the novel?
- What does Ireland represent for Franny? Australia? Discuss the importance of home and belonging in this novel, and how Franny’s search for it shapes her life.
- Franny says: ‘It isn’t fair to be the kind of creature who is able to love but unable to stay.’ Why does she have so much trouble staying, even with the people she most loves? Is this a sympathetic character trait? Right before their car accident, Niall tells Franny, ‘There’s a difference between wandering and leaving. In truth, you’ve never once left me.’ Do you agree?
- Anik tells Franny: ‘The stronger you are, the more dangerous the world.’ What does he mean?
- Franny’s conscience is split between protesting destructive fishing practices and depending on a fishing vessel to follow the terns. She and Niall devote much of their lives together to conservation, although their lifestyle sometimes runs counter to that effort (for instance, they still drive, fly, smoke, etc.). Did you sympathise with these contradictions?
- At the Mass Extinction Reserve (MER) base, the conservationists prioritise saving animals that help humanity, such as pollinators, rather than, in Franny’s words, ‘the animals that exist purely to exist, because millions of years of evolution have carved them into miraculous being.’ Is it right that a handful of people get to choose what to save? What do we lose in allowing the wild to disappear?
- In one of his lectures, Niall says of wildlife: ‘They are being violently and indiscriminately slaughtered by our indifference. It has been decided by our leaders that economic growth is more important.’ How does that resonate in our world, as leaders debate the appropriate response to climate change? What is our responsibility to the planet?
- Ennis tells Franny that Point Nemo is, ‘the remotest place in the world, further from land than anywhere else.’ When she asks what it’s like, he replies, ‘There’s nowhere crueller or lonelier... It’s quiet.’ What is the appeal of Point Nemo to Ennis and Franny? How does it resonate with the rest of the novel?
- Franny believes ‘the fear world is worse than death. It is worse than anything.’ Do you agree? What is she afraid of?
- What does Franny hope to accomplish by following the terns on their last migration? What about Ennis? What do you think the future holds for them?