Chilling debut novel receives warm reception

Published: 22 March 2019 at 10:43

Dr Helen Marshall

High-profile praise for The Migration, by Anglia Ruskin Lecturer Dr Helen Marshall

Dr Helen Marshall’s debut novel The Migration, which is set in a Britain ravaged by storms, flooding and a mysterious disease, will be officially launched in Cambridge on Tuesday, 2 April.

Helen is the Director of the Centre for Science Fiction & Fantasy at Anglia Ruskin University, as well as the Course Leader for the MA in Science Fiction & Fantasy, and her work has already received a string of impressive plaudits.

Author Neil Gaiman said that “Helen Marshall is a writer who creates real people in real situations, then uses the fantastic to pry her way inside her readers’ ribcages and break us wide open”, while The Guardian’s review said that The Migration “fulfils her early promise in a moving study of love, family bonds, climate change and personal transformation”.

The National Post newspaper, in her native Canada, said that “Marshall is a master at bizarre, myth-infused scenarios that play on a reader's subconscious in ways creepy and oddly pleasurable”, while M.R. Carey, author of The Girl With All the Gifts, described The Migration as “A dark fable that somehow feels both timeless and urgently topical”.

The Migration draws on the subjects of climate change, a strange immune disorder and a young woman’s dawning awareness of mortality and being left alone, the latter triggered by an incident when Helen was in her final year of High School in Canada.  Her father suffered a serious head injury in a car accident, which affected his short term memory.  Her mother was abroad at the time and Helen was alone with her younger sister.

Helen explained:

“This crisis had a profound effect on me. Laura and I became close over this time – tremendously so – and when I left for university six months later, a year later she followed after me. Over the course of the next 10 years we stayed close, my confidante and best friend.

“But as 2013 came to an end marked by two major accomplishments – the British Fantasy Award for my first collection and then, a week later, the successful defence of my thesis – we both knew that things were going to change. I had just accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford to study manuscripts written during the time of the Black Death.

“The emotional core of The Migration came out of that sense of what it means to go through a major transition in life. How it feels to know your life is diverging from someone whom you care for very greatly, how scary change can be – even if it turns out to be a good thing. 

“My dad’s accident had another effect which spurred on the writing of this novel: a lifelong interest in the idea of history and what it means to remember – to bury something in your mind so deeply that it becomes a part of you. This manifested itself in a passion for medieval literature that became the subject of my PhD.

“What fascinated me about the fourteenth century was that it was an age of true crisis, one of the few moments in history when the human race teetered on the edge of extinction as a result of the Black Death.

“The stories of the fourteenth century resonated for me with the current narratives of massive upheaval that we regularly hear today -- economic frustration and international instability, the rise of global health scares such as Ebola virus and the Zika virus, the fear of ecological tipping points already passed.

“There is a sense that we are living through our own age of crisis. In The Migration I wanted to draw together these two threads, personal and societal trauma.”

The Migration is published by Titan Books in the UK and Penguin Random House in Canada. Helen will be speaking alongside Irish novelist Sarah Maria Griffin at Waterstones bookshop in Cambridge on Tuesday, 2 April (6pm-7.30pm).