I chose to read this book as it was the winner of the CILIP Carnegie medal in 2018. Where the World Ends tells a haunting and troubling story set in the most harshest of environments of survival against the odds.
Whilst the story is based on a real event the book itself is fictional as so little is known about the actual events that occurred in 1700. What is known for sure is that a group of men and boys were abandoned in a remote and inhospitable place for nine months and I fear that much of what they experienced may well have been too close to the narrative of Where the World Ends.
In 1727 a group of boys and men left their island home of Hirta, in the St Kilda archipelago, to go bird hunting on Stac an Armin (Warrior stac). The annual fowling expedition was a necessary undertaking to gather supplies (bird meat, eggs, feathers, oil) for their families at home and would allow them to buy supplies from the mainland.
But when the boat that is due to return them to their home never arrives, the group fear the worst. As hope of retuning to the mainland fades and speculation grows as to why they have not been picked up the group reach the only conclusion that seems logical - it must be the end of the world.
McCaughrean’s narrative explores the strength of the human body and mind in extreme adversity and this is centred around the the hardships that the group are faced with on the stac - harsh weather, crippling illness, starvation, and bleak day after bleak day. She lays bare the frailties of humans when they are faced with isolation and pain. When survival is paramount the fragilities of friendships are exposed, teamwork becomes less so and everyone is out for themselves.
I felt truly immersed in the harsh reality that the boys faced but I found I didn’t really emotionally connect with any of the characters, I found myself becoming more connected with the stac and its birds than the humans. I struggled with much of the action and interaction between the characters as it is steeped around superstition, omens and religious beliefs, but I assume it is an accurate depiction of what the characters would have thought and felt at the time.
Given that the book has one solitary setting - a sea stac - McCaughrean creates a detailed world that fully captures the brutal, uncompromising and hostile nature of the stac. Much of McCaugheran’s skill as a writer in this book is about creating a chilling sense of isolation on the stac and she paints a wickedly dark and depressing picture of the life of its occupants. Whilst this is done admirably I felt it dragged the narrative out. I really enjoyed the start and was desperate to know why the group had become stranded on the stac but it felt like I had to endure a lot in-between before getting the answer. When the answer did finally arrive, it was both shocking and heart-breaking.
The writing style is not what I am used to and I found it a challenge to read and it took me much longer to read than it normally would for a book of this length I found some of the phrasing strange and the use of broken english and Scotts slang slowed down the flow of reading.
What I did take from the book is that even in the bleakest of times and when all seems lost, we can still cling to hope. And that sometimes just being resilient and brave will be enough to see you through to another day.
This is a very ‘adult’ read considering it is written for children. Definitely one for older children as a certain degree of maturity is needed as it deals with harsh realities and tragic circumstances.