"The Migration" Book Review

Written by Chris Deal

Published by Random House Canada

the migration helen marshall large

Written by Helen Marshall
2019, 304 pages, Fiction
March 5th, 2019


A while back I was reading one of those articles you’ll see online, something about good tricks for writing horror, and there was one item there that stuck out to me. The article itself is lost in the internet flotsam, but the point is valid: Take a trope, something you’ve seen all the time and turn it on its head. Sure, you can write a zombie story about Romero zombies and depending on how you do the writing it could be great, but wouldn’t it be much more satisfying to take a part of that trope and flip it to where it is all but unrecognizable. In 2019’s The Migration by Helen Marshall, we get those tropes spun all around like a leaf in a storm.

Sophie Perella leaves her father and Toronto for England with her mother and her younger sister, Kira, when Kira is diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or J12 as the kids are calling it. What exactly J12 is, the doctors and scientists are working on, but at first it presents itself as a weakening of the immune system in adolescents. The Perella girls move in with their Aunt Irene, a university professor and historical epidemiologist who focuses on the Black Death, and who happens to be working with the Centre. This Centre is where Kira is being treated for J12, and Aunt Irene is using research into the epidemics of the past to try and explain that of the present. While this is taking place the world is falling apart around them, climate change causing heat waves in winter and a near constant rain that is causing the river Thames to constantly flood. All this is told from Sophie’s point of view, 17 years old but wiser than she should be.

There is a growing dread of disintegration as the book begins that only grows as we go on. Her family is falling apart, as is the world, and her little sister is sick with no hope for a cure, when THE VIDEO goes viral. A boy, recently diagnosed with J12, dies in an accident. The video is him dead on the slab when all of a sudden he starts moving. It’s at that moment we get our expectations that this is a zombie novel, but oh, oh do things not go how you would expect.

The prose is simply beautiful throughout, but that could be its own negative. From a first-person perspective we realize that this narrator, 17 years old, has a vernacular that could rival Cormac McCarthy. But that’s just a trick of the book, this being told to you in the after.

I’m half flesh, half ether. I’m made up of insubstantial things: air, lightness, thought, memory.

Marshall gives you hints and possibilities throughout. There are references to Toxoplasma gondii that give us a parallel to reality, to a preexisting scenario of how maybe one’s mind could turn and how zombie fiction could bleed into the real. Later we refer to these things as Nymphs. We are not sure if this is the mythological nymph at first, or simply “...as a stage in the process of metamorphosis...”

There was a while I could not quite make up my mind if this novel was intended for the adult reader or the Young Adult audience. Sentences like “If I’m going to die young, kissing you was worth five years.” make me lean towards the latter. This is not labeled Young Adult, but this would fit neatly on that shelf at the bookstore. But really, those moments are few, and even if this was meant for a Young Adult audience, that doesn’t mean an old fellow like myself couldn’t find something worthwhile in the book.

And I did find much here that was worth it. You can see many things at play in The Migration, a story of the apocalypse happening all around you, a zombie novel maybe without zombies, and the threat of one’s own mind turning. This is not outright horror but more subtle. This is not a perfect novel, no. You must let some things go, as fiction often asks of you, but you can find a great experience, and much to walk away thinking about.


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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Buy from Amazon UK.
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