Cover Image: The Stranding

The Stranding

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Member Reviews

This was okay….without spoilers, I thought it all a bit far fetched. It felt quite disjointed to me as well, the story didn’t flow, and I just didn’t connect with it.

It’s was ok.


As ever, my thanks to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the advance copy
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The Stranding by Kate Sawyer, is a story about Ruth Before and Ruth Now; the Before being in our time and the Now being in a dystopian future that has been created by mankind destructing itself. I wasn't a fan of the younger Ruth but the older one is impressive. With 2 times lines that eventually meet, we come to understand how Ruth travelled from London to New Zealand and climbed into a whale's mouth. I enjoyed this book, although I found some of the vagueness of events and the ending a bit dissatisfying. A touching dystopian read and actually quite realistic.
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Ruth is at a loose end. Riddled with nagging doubts about her life choices and eager to bury her head in the sand as news reports become ever more troubling, she decides to reinvent herself and head off to New Zealand. But the disaster that the news has been heralding catches up with her, an apocalyptic event which she survives by pure chance changing her life and world forever.

With one fellow survivor – friendly Kiwi Nik – Ruth sees out the end of the world by sheltering inside the mouth of a dead beached whale. This might sound like it’s straying into magical realism, and although Sawyer isn’t forthcoming with any science as to the technicalities here – we only know what Ruth and Nik know – it’s more grounded and practical feeling than it is whimsical. Likewise, whatever the apocalyptic event itself actually is, we don’t need to know the exact specifics. It’s some sort of nuclear firestorm caused by escalating tensions of some description, but it’s really just a narrative switch which, when thrown, alters Ruth’s life utterly.

The scenes we see of her life before the apocalypse are starkly contrasting with everything we see after the bombs(?) have dropped; so much of her life she takes for granted, as indeed we all do, and that’s made ever more clear as we flit between the two timelines. Her and Nik are scavenging for food across a ravaged and desolate North Island in one chapter, and in another she’s having a jolly family Christmas dinner. You might think that the juxtaposition of Ruth’s pre-apocalyptic life alongside her post-apocalyptic one might be jarring, or that perhaps one might not be as satisfying as the other, but actually the glorious mundanity of her former life frames her new one with a great deal of poignancy. It’s almost as if Sally Rooney decided to write a version of The Road.

Ruth’s world before the apocalypse struck was one of teaching kids and not really being sure if she wanted her own, before being landed with someone else’s. A life with loving parents and a best friend – the instantly loveable Fran – who drives the two of them back home for Christmas. A life with messy, tangled relationships, social obligations and so on. In short, it was fairly run of the mill. But the effort that has been expended in making it all feel utterly believable and real shines through; as soon as characters are introduced, you feel as if you know them, and through knowing them, as if you know more of Ruth too. The decisions that she makes along the way to making the most significant one, to go to New Zealand, are every bit as compelling to read about as the life and death ones she’s faced with at the end of the world. 

To say much about how things unfold after Ruth and Nik emerge from the mouth of their unwitting saviour would be to spoil some of the more charming and emotional elements of the book; despite the sadness that they both clearly feel at the world that has been lost, they set about creating a new one for themselves, with the bones of the whale which sheltered them as its foundation. There are moments of tension here, of an entirely different kind to the ones which crop up in the awkward moments of Ruth’s previous life, as they struggle to survive their new reality. Sawyer uses cliffhangers to great effect here, cutting away from dramatic, life or death moments in the present to the everyday past, but it never feels like we’re being cheated by being dragged back, not when it’s all so vividly realised and engaging.

The Stranding is nothing less than a triumph – a beautiful story of love, family and friendship, told with real skill and empathy. This is the sort of book I would have no trouble recommending to practically anyone.
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I just didn't click with this book. I liked the sound of it, and thought it would be different, and I would enjoy it .Alas I didn't, glad to see other readers did, and it is probably just me who didn't connect with it.
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I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book on @netgalley on 18 March, but for some reason, I put off reading it for ages. 

A novel set in post-apocalyptic times about a woman who shelters in the mouth of a whale, not a book you’d typically be drawn to? Well, it turns out I was putting off reading what is an exquisite debut and my favourite fiction so far this year. 

In alternating chapters set in the Before (before a catastrophic apocalyptic event) and After, we get to know Ruth, a woman who, dissatisfied with her life, heads to New Zealand from the UK, deciding to pursue a lifelong passion for whales. 

What happens next (and before), I’d really rather not say, suffice to say that this is an unforgettable book. 

An allegorical tale of darkness into light, survival against the odds, the resilience of humanity, the fragility of life and the planet, a love story for the ages? All of the above. It brought me back to Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, and time I spent in NZ and Tonga in 2004 getting up close with humpback whales. It got under my skin pretty much from the first chapter. It’s bleak and hopeful and terrifying and promising and wonderful and cinematic, all at the same time. Suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to become submerged in it.

*The Stranding will be published on 24 June 2021 and is available to pre-order from all good bookshops. Thank you to @netgalley and the publishers @hodderbooks for an advance digital copy of this book. As always, this is an honest review. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy - as soon as I’d finished I ordered it.  5/5 ⭐️
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TL;DR Recommendation:

Loved. This book is all about never settling for anything you don’t love and has a special wee space in my heart.

I told myself that after The End of Men I should really shelf the dystopian books because of *waves arms around* this hell we’re existing in, yet here I am. Glutton for punishment Jen reporting for duty. This is what you’re in for:

✨ The end of the world
✨ A dead whale
✨ Two strangers surviving in said dead whale
✨ Wholesome vibes for a shitty situation

This is the story of two tales – the Ruth from the Before times and the, uh… Ruth in the afters. Our wee Ruthy has a bit of a mundane/shitty life, bouncing from relationship to relationship in the hope of being loved. After landing with a handsome prick, she finally breaks free of his controlling ways (parts of the story got a bit too real for me) and does what everyone should do – run to the other side of the world to save the whales and ignore all the depressing news.

Ignorance is bliss after all.

Enter Nik. A laid-back photographer who’s now watching Ruth throw water over a stranded whale whilst no doubt musing over her sanity. When the end of the world is coming, people tend to lose their minds. After bonding over a joint, it’s time to die. Except Ruth (with her big brain energy) yells at Nik to get into the whale's mouth to ride out the chaos.

Crawling out, they face their new world. Earth 2.0 you might call it. Where everything is fucked and everyone else is dead. This is the story of their life, their struggles and their growth.

Right so now you’ve got the plot, this book caused a tear to slip down my face. This doesn’t happen often and is a very rare occurrence when it comes to books, but this one got me good.

The characters are delightful except, the plot got me good and this is genuinely a story that I’ve never endured before. It’s not a negative story that so many other dystopian books focus on – it actually leaves you feeling hopeful that maybe everything could be alright.

My only gripes?
– TIME MOVES SO FUCKING FAST. I get why (I honestly do) but I’d end a sentence, start a new one and a year had passed.
– I was way more intrigued by the post-apocalyptic Ruth than past Ruth. Found myself skim reading over what was happening in her old life but also get that it’s insanely important to the story.
– And finally, Ruth kept swapping between calling her parents mum and dad to their actual names. My poor brain kept thinking I’d forgotten people.

This is a beautiful wee book that shows us just how resilient we can be and that we should never, ever settle with someone just because you feel you should. Go save the whales.

The Stranding is out on the 24th June and you should absolutely grab it if this sounds like your jam.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Staughton for ARC.  

This is a really assured debut and I look forward to reading more from this author.   

The plot synopsis is familiar - Ruth is 30-something, living in London, job a bit of a rut, relationship is not all she'd hoped, needs a shake-up, so she decides to take a belated gap-year style trip, going to work on a whale conservation project in New Zealand.  

Then everything changes.  A cataclysmic climate event forces Ruth to build a new life from what remains.  

This is a gorgeous novel, with the threads of Ruth's old life and her new one interwoven, so you get a dreamlike sense of time being fluid and both stories take on a fairytale or mythic quality.  There is pathos and humour and grim determination.  The characters are mostly very well drawn and that makes it easier to follow them on their respective journeys and care about their fate.  
There is a hopeful strand through it that makes it feel less dystopian than the plot suggests.  
I loved it and expect I'll think about it often.
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The thing that stands out the most to me about this book is how the author’s writing style manages to be so utilitarian and still beautiful. It explores a woman’s ability to reach her potential and thrive in a modern society and in a totally isolated setting. 

The chapters alternate between two timelines, before the nuclear blast and afterwards. Ruth is an ordinary woman in her thirties who has struggled in relationships and is trying to settle down and be what she thinks she should be, but when the blast strikes and she finds herself one of two survivors, she’ll only continue surviving if she becomes what she needs to be instead. There’s no room for pretention, just getting on with it. 

The contrast between the timelines is haunting, it’s a character study rather than a series of political events leading up to a finale, about how an average person can become extraordinary if the situation calls for it. 

I was completely absorbed into this story, Ruth is a very personable character that I think most readers will be able to relate with on one level or another and Nik, the man she survives with, is the same. He’s a regular bloke with his own baggage that has a will to survive, even if seemingly there’s no point in carrying on. 

This is a thoughtful read and one I highly recommend.
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Kate Sawyer's 'The Stranding' is a story of love and survival, set in both the present and a dystopian future. 

Ruth is a primary school teacher.  She moves from relationship to relationship, unable to find what she wants both from her work and her love life. After finding herself unhappy and controlled by her boyfriend, she decides to travel to New Zealand with the plan of volunteering in an ecology project and fulfilling her childhood dream of seeing whales. However, she has ben ignoring the News and on the way is something that could wipe out the whole  human race. 

Sawyer's use of two timelines to tell this story works really well. I really enjoyed the way the story unfolded and alternated between a very relatable present and an imagined future. I was caught up in Ruth's mission to follow her dreams and then her strength in managing to survive despite the odds. However, about two thirds of the way through I found my interest in the book starting to wane. I wanted there to be more answers to my questions, and more development in the story. The ending wasn't entirely satisfying either. However, having finished it, it is a book I continue to think about and would recommend to others.
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Okay, so this is a dystopian end of the world type thing, but with way more whales than one would ordinarily expect in that range of books XD 

Ruth is a Londoner living a highly modern life, struggling to make choices that she stays happy in for long. Meanwhile, several years later in another strand of the novel, Ruth is also in New Zealand to volunteer with a whale conservation project when the unimaginable happens and life changes unutterably. 

As much as I admired the imagination of this survival story, I must say that I found it a particularly challenging topic to read about right now, maybe because of the year we’ve had, but if I’d known it was about an end of the world situation, I probably would not have chosen to read this. It has hope and beauty within it, and a marginally nice end but at the end of the day it’s still bleak, and I’m not sure I really got too much out of it. 

My thanks to #NetGalley and Hodder and Stoughton for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Brutal and compassionate in equal measure, "The Stranding" is one of those books that makes you gasp and gets your pulse racing. At first, I wasn't quite sure what was going on, but it all became clear. Swapping between the present and "before" almost felt like 2 stories for the price of one and was a great way to present Ruth's story. Beautifully written and well-imagined, this one will linger for a long time.

My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley. This review was written voluntarily and is entirely my own, unbiased, opinion.
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A stunning story of survival at the end of the world.
Told from two separate points in the same timeline, from the same perspective. It was fascinating to meet Ruth at the very beginning and see how she changes. It struck me as quite poignant that she managed to find a happy ever after, of sorts, after an EOD event.
Beautifully written, and so creative. I loved the way it all flowed and connected, and the bizarre nature of their survival blew my mind.
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Ruth Lancaster is a woman in her thirties who has reached a turning point in her life, so she packs her bags and heads to New Zealand - only to find the end of all she has known. When the apocalypse reaches her, she survives by hiding inside a whale - and has to begin again after the end of everything. All of this takes place in the opening chapters of @katesaywer’s debut, and what is built from there is an unsettling, beautiful story of love and survival. 
I can’t quite put into words how much I loved this book - calm and quiet, but utterly powerful and devastating at the same time. It’s been tricky to review this one, as I was swept up in the narrative. often forgetting to jot things down. But trust me - this is a good one. 

The novel swings between the Before and the After, keeping us with Ruth all the time, and so we get to know the people she’s missing in the current timeline. Sawyer writes with such conviction and hold over her characters that each one feels like a much-missed friend by the end of the novel, Ruth especially. She’s a real everywoman, and chapters set in the Before add depth to her actions and characterisation in the After. We see the world through Ruth’s eyes, from the hubbub of London to the desolation of rural New Zealand, and while she’s on her journey, we only see what she sees. Because Ruth has buried her head in the sand regarding the end of days, we only find out what little she knows about it when it does arrive, making The Stranding a story less about the apocalypse than what comes after - and what we can do in the face of the end of everything. 

If the above sentence made you think of the words “survival is inefficient”, you’re not alone. The Stranding calls to mind Station Eleven, an absolute classic of the genre: it’s got the same quiet hopefulness in the face of ruin and impeccably sparse writing style. That said, the stories are wildly different; it’s simply the vibe that’s the same. In terms of plotting, it reminded me of Bethany Clift’s wonderful Last One At The Party - they are two sides of the same coin, Clift’s narrative being big and bolshy, Sawyer’s much quieter, but each makes for riveting meditations on being the last woman left alive. I’ve made no secret of my love for an end-of-the-world novel, and this is one of the best I’ve read for sure. Haunting, meditative and powerful, The Stranding will gently reach into your heart and shake you to your core, and make you feel impossibly lucky.
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I loved the premise of this book and couldn't wait to read it. Sadly I struggled to get into it. I took a break from it and then tried to continue but in the end I DNF.
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Gorgeously written story of a woman who climbs into the mouth of a whale to survive the end of the world. Ruth's story is clever, thought-provoking, and it broke my heart.
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The story is alternating chapters from Before the devastating catastrophe and Ruth's life in London, and from the moment of the disaster and her life in New Zealand after the world as she knew it, including all the people, ended. The story is about Ruth, not the events leading up to the global disaster, so we never know what actually happened, but neither does she. Interesting read, and you are left at the end wondering what happens next
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My thanks to NetGalley and publisher Hodder & Stoughton for the ARC.

Oh My...what a splendid read this book is.  It's beautifully written with strong main characters and believable dialogue.  It's emotional; a story of survival and fortitude, and love, against all odds.

Ruth loves her family and friends and refuses to acknowledge the increasingly depressing daily news alluding to a world crisis which could lead to warfare.  Deciding to escape a relationship and travel to New Zealand to work with a Whale conservation project there, she leaves her friends and family behind and flies half-way around the world.  When she arrives in New Zealand she's bewildered by her reception - people are crying - pointing to the news; border control express their condolences as they stamp her British passport - half the world no longer exists.  She forces herself to head for the sea and the whale project, despair and thoughts of her past life are almost unbearable.
When she reaches the beach there is a stranded whale - nothing can be done for it as she learned from Nik, a freelance photographer, the only other person she's seen apart from an elderly shop keeper on the caravan site close to the beach.  When the skies change and the storm (nuclear?) approaches, she and Nik shelter within the body of the whale; they emerge to a new world of dark clouds shielding any sunlight.

Ruth and Nik set about using the Whale as shelter, food and clothing; the story follows their years together and the skies eventually clear, crops re-grow and animals return.  Their lives are primitive, foraging and hunting, and determined to stay put on the beach in case there are other survivors but for all they know they may be the last people on earth.

This would make a terrific film - the special effects departments would have a field-day!

Couldn't put it down - totally engrossing.
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The Stranding

I know that a book is extraordinary when I finish and feel changed in some way. I’m not sure what has happened, but there’s a tiny, imperceptible change to the air around me, how I feel and even the way I perceive the world. The Stranding left me feeling calm, thoughtful and as if a lot of the small things worrying me didn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. I cared deeply for the characters and their grief, but oddly proud of them for what they managed to achieve. The author created an incredible sense of New Zealand and the whale that becomes Ruth’s saviour, and mother - birthing her and Nik into their new world and sustaining them. Her detailed descriptions left me fully immersed in this world, so much so that when I finished reading it took a while to adjust back to my 21st Century world. 

Ruth is an endearing character and someone I could relate to enormously, especially when thinking back to my younger self. She’s a primary school teacher and serial monogamist living in London. She has a best friend called Fran and really supportive parents who live a train journey away. However, her love life is complicated with even Fran saying that she needs to spend some time alone between relationships. So, Ruth has kept her current relationship under wraps. She loves Alex, and the way she feels is different from her previous relationships, but he comes with complications. He’s married, with two small children. There’s a restlessness about Ruth, something she thinks will disappear if Alex makes a commitment. Then he does and he’s there in her small flat all the time, she’s a ready made step mum and as time goes on, does she want this version of her life? 

‘Ruth had noticed a new loo brush beside the toilet. She reddened to realise that Alex had felt the necessity to purchase such an item, and her cheeks burnt even more when she wondered whether it was her or him who had made that requirement apparent. It wasn’t the only scatological matter that raised the colour in Ruth’s cheeks. Alex was opposed to the use of any chemical or aerosol-propelled household products. Over the past week, on several occasions, Ruth had found herself wafting pungent air out of the window and running the tap to foam soap in the hope of masking the smell of her natural functions. Though it was worse when she had walked in and been greeted with air almost warm with the memory of Alex’s recent visit’.


The book is split into before and after - it’s not explicit exactly what has created this apocalyptic world Ruth finds herself in, but it is catastrophic, wiping out Europe before it reaches New Zealand. The placement of these sections is incredibly clever. Before takes us back to the world as we know it and follows Ruth to the beach and the stranded whale. After starts at the stranded whale and tells the story into the future. So we are brought full circle eventually and can marvel at the change in this character and whether she has finally found satisfaction in a life stripped of everything. Nik is, quite literally, the last man on earth. The difference in their characters is shown in the way they cope with the whale. Ruth is immediately desperate to do something. To do anything. She rips through her rucksack for a container to hold water, then pours it over the huge creature. She must know rationally that this tiny amount of water will make no difference. She has been interested in whales since being a small girl so she must know this is a losing battle, but the activity is not for the whale. Ruth chooses activity because she can’t accept the inevitable. Nik is straightforward. He reminds her that her efforts are futile. They can’t save the whale, all they can do is be there in it’s final moments. They are forced into an intimacy that Ruth would normally avoid. Every day they choose to be a team, to use their individual skills to support each other and stay alive. Her father once advised her that love, real lasting love, is quiet and surprising. It’s not Anna Karenina or Wuthering Heights. It’s not drama and heartbreak and flowery exclamations. He tells her that it’s just going about your day and having a realisation that you can’t live without the other person. There’s telling someone you love them, and there’s showing them. 

I loved how the author emphasised the importance of stories in this way. Ruth realises her children will never know what it was truly like to live in the before. This wild world of survival is their normal. She tells them stories of how she survived the end of the world. She knows they will never know her joy of reading and she thinks of all the children’s classics she could be reading them: 

‘She watches Frankie exploring every stone and shell she comes across and feels a physical ache in her heart that she will never read a book: the words that constructed the worlds Ruth’s imagination inhabited as a child. Instead Ruth tells her those stories herself. She tells her of the Lion and the Witch that lived through the Wardrobe, and great adventures of princesses and princes. Without the books to restrict her, she often switches the genders of the protagonists, waking sleeping princes from their slumbers and sending young women on adventures in mythical lands. Nik watches as Ruth talks softly to the child on her lap in the light of the fire, retelling the stories they know so well; he raises an eyebrow and forms his crooked smile as he hears her adaptations. He tells stories too, stories Ruth has never heard, stories from New Zealand, tales that the Maori have been handing down to their children for centuries. He tells stories full of allegory. Folk-tales of curious animals, stupid humans, and gods of land and sea. Ruth revels in every word, knowing there won’t be many new stories in her life. But she is wrong.’

This is a return to oral storytelling, where the story can change according to the storyteller. Sawyer’s prose can be beautiful and detailed, such as her incredible description of the skin of the whale. 

‘The hide of the animal looks like cracked, varnished wood. Like an old piano. A giant grand piano from the ballroom of a wrecked ocean-liner, washed up on the shore. The long white underside of its belly is ridged, like bricks of pale plasticine. The shell-like white, beige, cream skin is flecked with grey, black, coral-orange markings. Around its mouth and eyes the same orange spreads like rust: clumsy make-up that has smudged in the water.’

However, it can also be sparse and brutal, such as when she’s describing Ruth’s skin in the first few days afterwards. It made me think about the extremes of the world she’s living in, from the quietness and the gradual return of nature to the brutality of the wild dogs and the animalistic aspects of birth. What I was left with though, was something I’ve been thinking about during the pandemic where I’ve been shielding - only seeing my partner and step-daughters. With the pause button pressed on my life, I was able to think about it more clearly. I realised we needed to move house and we are now out in the country, with a garden I can sit in easily and chat to the neighbours over the fence. It made me realise who was important in my life and who wasn’t. I re-evaluated what I wanted to do with my time and that now is my time to write. It also made me realise who I am, without people to bounce off or rushing to different places and having endless mental stimulation through social media. I was able to apply something I have previously taught in art and writing therapy workshops - the art of being myself. This is exactly what happens to Ruth.  With everything removed from her, who exactly is she? There is a time in her life where she would avoid self-examination by jumping to the next thing, the next entertainment, scrolling social media, the next outing, the next man. Afterwards, she is forced to contemplate and to stay with the only other person who survived. It is fascinating to watch whether she copes in this situation and whether she can find a way to be happy that eluded her before. This book was incredible, moving, disturbing and deeply philosophical. This is an extraordinary debut and I loved it. 




 A final version will appear on my blog today.
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Wow! What a fantastic book. Such wonderful writing and a compelling tale of Ruth and Nik and the end of the world. Reminiscent in places of the SF Masterwork Earth Abides by George R Stewart it is well written and not sentimental as it deals with survival, love and life. I wish I could give it more than five stars. With thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the free -ARC for me to read in exchange for an honest review.  If you only buy one book this summer make it this one.
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At a time when it seems like every second book is post-apocalyptic it is hard for new novels in this very popular sub-genre to cut through. Kate Sawyer’s debut, The Stranding, tries in a couple of ways, but the most spectacular is her opening scenes involving her main characters and a beached whale. The rest could possibly be seen as an extremely extended metaphor as Sawyer contemplates the benefits of a stripped back post-apocalyptic lifestyle (if only all of those other humans didn’t have to die to make it happen).
The opening of The Stranding finds English backpacker Ruth alone on a New Zealand beach desperately trying to help a beached, dying whale. She is being watched by Nik, a New Zealand bloke who comes down to tell her to stop wasting her time. This is when the end of the world happens. The two shelter from a distant, spectacularly powerful explosion in the mouth of the whale and in the aftermath appear to be the only survivors. While this is happening, and in its aftermath, the narrative alternates with the tale Ruth’s life before – living hard in London having an affair with a married man which turns into a mildly abusive relationship – as a counterpoint to the life she ends up living, eventually telling the full story of how she ended up on that beach in the first place. Her new life, where she and Nik could well be the last man and woman on Earth, turns out to be a tough but kind-of agrarian bucolic life, scavenging for food and then learning how to grow crops, based around a house built out of the bones of the whale that saved them.
There is little more to The Stranding than that. Sawyer casts a global apocalypse as a device to provide Ruth with a lesson in getting back to basics and to learn that love is what you make of it. Somewhere through the book it appears that there may well be other survivors but Ruth and Nik are not interested, happy to leave themselves stranded on their beach with their growing post-nuclear family. And on this level, The Stranding is interesting but by no means ground breaking. This is far from the first how-to guide to surviving the end of the world or just a more mundane stranding –both in fiction (think Robinson Crusoe (1719) or The Swiss Family Robinson (1812)) and non-fiction.
As already noted, the shelves are awash with post-apocalyptic tales. And ultimately it feels like The Stranding uses this trope because of this popularity more than because Sawyer wants delve too deeply into the implications of its use. Ruth herself ignores the news of the growing potential conflagration, and the details of it are never really clear except to for readers to understand know that it ends up killing nearly everyone and strands Ruth on her beach. So that the apocalypse itself never part of the story except as a background hum, a framing piece that provides a solid dividing line between past and present. And given the tale seems to essentially be an argument for the benefits of living a more simple, honest life, it can only be hoped that a global catastrophe is not the only way to get there.
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