Cover Image: The Stranding

The Stranding

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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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Good book!! I definitely enjoyed reading this one! I wasn't sure after I read the description but I really liked it! This book was filled with so much emotional drama, and all kinds of twists and turns! I highly recommend reading this book! Its well worth reading! Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for sharing this book with me!
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A haunting love story for the end of times, this book stays with you long after you finish reading it. A brave and bold imagining of an apocalyptic and unavoidable future, there is plenty of tragedy for Ruth when she crosses the world to help conserve whales in new Zealand. 

When a disaster ends the world as she knows it, Ruth bravely and relentlessly builds a future with what she has, and the book's ending is a pure and beautiful leap of faith.

I love the style of the writing, the book takes you between Ruth's past and her present, offering ambiguous contrasts that lead you to consider which life she enjoys more. The characters are well-defined, from the obnoxious boyfriend Ruth leaves behind to the love of her life that she meets along the way.

Superb imaging of a future which may not be too far away; I can only hope to have a small amount of the courage that Ruth shows in the face of adversity.
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A beautifully written story of love, survival, survival of love. I'm truly impressed by this debut novel.
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*I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the free book.*

This book impressed me immensly. It's about the end of the world, the apocalypse, and how a lone woman, a lone man, who survived inside a whale, can survive in Australia. On the other hand it's also about a young woman who is controlled by her boyfriend, cannot commit, refuses to see the world as it is, to do what needs to be done, and to keep herself in check. It's a wonderful story of maturity and then dealing with the end of the world.

The latter part, as you might've guessed, impressed me more. It also drove me slightly mad that the main character refused to pay attention to politics and what was going on in the world. We, the readers, never truly learn what led to the nuclear annihilation of the entire world, as we only see bits and pieces before the focaliser closes her eyes and turns away. While this is an annoying device to not to come up with convincing explanations, it also fits so very well with the character. And in the end it also doesn't matter why the world ended because what is coming after it (the whale, the life in the world after the apocalypse) is much more interesting. I also found the quite bleak ending very hopeful and it reminded me of the Laura Nyro song "And when I die": there will be one more child in this world to carry on. 

A weird book which drove me mad at times but which was also very hard to put down. Brilliant cover too. 

4.5 Stars
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Someone recommended this book to me,and I'm so glad they did,and that I didn't ignore them.
It's filled with love despite being about the worst of times,the end of times.
There were a few moments that brought me close to tears,the goodbyes in before times,when we knew what lay ahead,but our characters didn't.
The strength Ruth finds to not just get up every morning when everything she knew and loved has gone,but to build a life for herself,was incredible.
She's a character I'll remember for a long time.
I'll be passing this recommendation on.
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This book has stayed in my mind for quite some time after reading it, very much the mark of an outstanding book. It follows a young woman, skipping back and forth between her life in London and a trip to New Zealand which changes everything. 
This book smashes through stereotypes: it mainly focusses on a post-apocalyptic world, but also follows teacher Ruth as she leaves one relationship and finds love and a family in a way she would never have considered. 
I enjyed the way Ruth rebuilds her life, the quirky way she survives, the relationships which develop. At some point we have all asked, how would I cope if I survived an apocalyptic event, and The Stranding shows how one ordinary woman comes through. 
Would definitely recommend this.
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An absolute masterpiece, beautifully written it enchants you from the start. Loved it, completely unique to anything I’ve ever read before and I thought it was stunning, what a novel, I found it impossible to put down and didn’t until it was over, and then I wished I could read it all over again!

Amazing....if I could give 10 stars I would!!!
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The Stranding deserves to be on all of 2021's best of lists. A fascinating tale that was impossible to put down!
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I was totally totally absorbed by "The Stranding" by Kate Sawyer.  The premise does sound strange but it is such a beautifully written book.  Set in modern times, Ruth goes about her daily life but chooses not to listen to the political tensions hinted to in the background.  Her old life completely changes when she heads to New Zealand and catastrophe hits.  She meets Nik on the beach where they watch a stranded whale die.  But the stranding (literal and metaphysical) is what saves them as they climb inside the whale and emerge into a new world.  Perhaps the most beautifully written post-apocalyptic book you could read, and I know where I'd want to be if catastrophe struck.
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Since the dawn of the covid-19 pandemic, post-apocalypse stories seem to have lost some of their allure. But the end of the world doesn't look like we might have imagined it, and so, even though it is easy to pick out similarities, to see where the real world might have influenced the author, it is almost comforting to slip into a fictional world which depicts a much grimmer future. 

But fictional dystopia, no matter how dark or hard the world is, always includes a shimmer of light, of hope. The Stranding is no exception. That the end of everything could mean the beginning of something new, something better. In the Before, Ruth had been a 30-something who never seemed to truly understand herself or her place in the world. Reborn into the new world from the body of a whale, Ruth is able to cast off the constraints of her past life and find who she truly is. 

The Stranding is a beautiful, lyrical novel, utterly mesmerising, heartbreaking and tender.
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When she got on the plane to New Zealand Ruth could never have imagined that she wouldn’t ever be going home again, that there would be no home left to go back to. Saved from a mysterious apocalypse by the bizarre chance of finding shelter inside a beached whale, all she can do is try to survive her new life with the handsome stranger she is now trapped in it with. Filled with grief, Nik came to the beach for the photo opportunities that the beached whale provided; he could never have imagined that the whale would also provide his future home. And when he spies Ruth futilely trying to save the whale with a lunchbox filled with water he definitely wouldn’t have pictured sharing that home with her.

One of my favourite aspects of this book is the lack of detail; a sentence I never thought to write! Keeping the details of the apocalypse vague and unknown makes the whole plot just that much more ominous, creating an underlying tension and a sense of anticipation which is even more effective by the fact that it remains unfulfilled to the very end.  This also allows the reader to experience the raw emotion of the apocalypse rather than being distracted by the science. 

The emotion of this book pulled me along like a relentless current. Grief, loss, desperation, fear, hope, love, happiness, uncertainty; all of these emotions are explored on a loop throughout the book, made even more stark by the constant contrast between ‘before’ and ‘after’. When the two timelines converged in the final chapters I somehow felt all of those emotions at once, leaving me feeling quite bereft after the final page had turned.

I wanted to be able to guess the ending of this book and I definitely had a few ideas as I went along, one of which turned out to be right, but I never felt one hundred percent sure of what to expect until it actually happened. Starting the book with something so surprisingly quirky as surviving via whale meant that I was open for anything as the book progressed and couldn’t rule out any other startling possibilities.
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A compelling debut novel that did not pan out as I expected from the blurb but in fact was a better read, slow moving and absorbing.The two strands of Ruth's life run side by side, her past life working slowly forwards as we see where she is now so that by the end of the book, her past life has caught up with where she was at the beginning - a circular structure of sorts. 

The book opens as Ruth meets Nik, a stranger, a beach next to a dying beached whale. They take shelter inside the whale while *something* happens - the dystopian events are never explained but we assume that there has been a nuclear holocaust and they may well be the last, or some of the last people alive. Ruth and Nik's story as they try to survive following the explosion is a slow moving tender love story and in direct contrast to the dreadful relationship outlined in Ruth's earlier life. 

I liked the style of Sawyer's writing, how she moved forwards in time so that the book covers over twenty years, and how she shows you the depth of Ruth's and Nik's love in small gestures. 

This is a really good read which deserves to do well.
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A really gripping read.  The story is so well written and the characters really came to life for me.  I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend.
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A mesmerising tale about love, feelings and human resilience in the face of complete devastation. Contemplative, uplifting, and moving; The Stranding will definitely remain with me for a very long time. Sawyer's ability to weave deep, poignant stories with original concepts is breathtaking. Thank you so much for the ARC!
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