THE CAPTIVATING WORD OF MOUTH HIT
by Kate Sawyer
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 24 Jun 2021 | Archive Date 24 Jun 2021
Hodder & Stoughton, Coronet
'A breathtaking book about relationships, love and human resilience' - Lex Croucher, author of Reputation
'Sensitive, gripping, thought-provoking and edifying, THE STRANDING is a book of our times, and reminds us that no life lives forever; how precious our moments are' - Laura Carlin, author of Requiem for a Knave
HER WORLD FELL TO PIECES.
FROM THE BONES SHE BUILT A NEW LIFE.
Ruth lives in the heart of the city. Working, drinking, falling in love: the rhythm of her vivid and complicated life is set against a background hum of darkening news reports from which she deliberately turns away.
When a new romance becomes claustrophobic, Ruth chooses to leave behind the failing relationship, but also her beloved friends and family, and travels to the other side of the world in pursuit of her dream life working with whales in New Zealand.
But when Ruth arrives, the news cycle she has been ignoring for so long is now the new reality. Far from home and with no real hope of survival, she finds herself climbing into the mouth of a beached whale alongside a stranger. When she emerges, it is to a landscape that bears no relation to the world they knew before.
When all has been razed to the ground, what does it mean to build a life?
The Stranding is a story about the hope that can remain even when the world is changed beyond recognition.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 139 members
How to write a review for a book that blows your mind. Stunning. Beautiful. Intelligently crafted. Brave. Spellbinding. All true, yet weak descriptors for this gorgeous tale of love & loss. I'm honoured to have read it and it will stay with me for a very long time. It is a truimph of a novel with deep emotional engagement. I can't count how many times I cried. Tears of hope and love too. It astounds me that the author could dream up this magnificent tale. I mean how on earth did she imagine it? And the threads throughout both timelines are so expertly weaved. This is a lesson in storytelling. A triumph of a tale. You need to discover Ruth and Nik' and explore their wonderous love.
Fantastical book with rich alive characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The figurative language the last scenery and the real characters. I highly recommend it
This is an absolutely stunning book. Almost dreamlike, it lures you in and gently brings you under its spell: it's fantastical, yet grounded and completely compelling. I loved it, and know it will stay with me for a long time.
Ruth Lancaster has lived quite an ordinary life. She’s in her 30s, and has rarely been alone although best friend Fran teases that she never leaves one relationship without another one to move on to. Ruth is a school teacher and close to her loving parents, but feels dissatisfied with her life. Little does she know that a global tragedy is going to test her to the limits. The story is told simultaneously in the present and near future. Chapters alternate between the Ruth of today, getting to know her as she moves from mistress to live-in girlfriend at home in London. Then flashing forward a few years to wear she has travelled to New Zealand and survives some major world event (it’s never clear what this was, but hints are made towards global conflict and the destruction of western Europe). We follow her as she learns to survive alongside freelance photographer and native New Zealander Nik, while gradually coming to understand how she ended up there and how little her previous life had prepared her for her new one. This is a really well told story. It’s slow paced and methodical, but never boring. Ruth purposely turns off the bad news at home which gives an eerie sense of sleepwalking into a disaster. But, there’s also a worthy focus on the here and now, on surviving. You won’t find many of the post-apocalyptic horror tropes here. There aren’t roving bands of crazed gangs. The threats are more practical in nature, and are as likely to arise in the portions about the present time as they are in the post-crisis world. A thoughtful and interesting story and one I very much enjoyed. I will publish the review on my blog around two weeks before the release date and also review on Amazon, Goodreads and Storygraph at that time.
Quite possibly the best dystopian, world-ending novel I have ever read! Alternating between Ruth then and Ruth now, the difference between the two being a cataclymsic disaster that wipes out the world as she knows it, the book covers her relationships, both good and bad and cleverly explains her personality and her motivations via her interactions with those she loves. The passage of time in the book is well handled and it was really nice to read an end of the world book where people are not fighting and killing each other over resources! beautiful, descriptive, thought provoking, emotive- read it!
I was hooked on this from the first page - absolutely loved the writing. Although to be honest, I was already committed thanks to the cover - I too have always loved whales. This feels not like a dystopia, but the coming together of life post apocalypse - the joy and relationships that grow even after the worst has happened, as the two worlds, and the event that separates them, come together.
Wow, I raced through this, thoroughly enjoyed it. It would make a good book group discussion. The story runs between a Before and After, namely around a nuclear attack which razes the world to the ground. Ruth has left England to travel to New Zealand, completely ignorant of what is in the news. She ends up on a beach to see a stranding of a whale, along with a Kiwi photographer Nik. When it suddenly looks like the world is about to end, they take shelter in the dead whale's mouth, later to exit it to a landscape of ash, with the 2 of them the only humans around. There then follows the story of the 'After', intertwined with Ruth's life in the 'Before', and there are many similarities, so much so that sometimes you wonder if only one world is the reality. I think it's very clever how the author manages to do this, making so many things like the whale itself, the ocean, and even small things like a yellow mac, and a primary school mobile classrooms and caravans, link both narratives. There is a lot that happens in both stories to keep you gripped throughout. A thought provoking book, highly recommended.
This novel spans the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of protagonist Ruth’s life. The before is set in the present and charts Ruth’s burgeoning new relationship with the good-looking and charismatic family man Alex. The after is her story as she is thrown into a dystopian world where she is having to negotiate the end of civilisation as she knows it. Both worlds are linked by Ruth’s love of whales and the stranding is both about them and about Ruth herself as she is literally beached and has to find the resources to start again. Sawyer writes well and I believed in Ruth and cared about her fate. Her ultimate life is both uplifting and devastating and I’m left with the sense of bereavement you feel at the end of a good book with characters you really care about. Recommended: a good story with well-handled characterisation.
I had been looking forward to reading this after seeing all the glorious proofs on Twitter! And the book did not disappoint. I really enjoyed the originality of this novel - thoroughly imaginative, scarily timely, and written with quite filmic prose. The book cover is also glorious and I cannot wait to buy a physical copy.
This is a gorgeous debut. It's quiet, and many things are left unexplained, but rather than being frustrating this gives a sense of sparseness, of the paring away of the unnecessary. Apart from the 'surviving by sheltering in the dead body of a whale' (which, honestly, lead me to assume when I saw this in the blurb that I would be reading some kind of allegorical fantasy), there's nothing exactly original about The Stranding. Far from being a problem, this lack of inventive flourish gives the novel room to breathe life into a much more mundane story of humanity, family, love and loss. I can imagine some readers finding it hard to suspend disbelief when it comes to the mechanics of survival, and possibly this is a fair criticism, but it didn't bother me at all. Maybe, in fact, I did read some kind of allegorical fantasy - but it made me feel all kinds of emotions and, really, what else are novels for? My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the ARC.
Chick-lit and dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction might seem unlikely bedfellows but Kate Sawyer has merged the genres to produce an intelligent, moving and thought-provoking first novel. Sawyer tells how Ruth - a thirty-something London-based teacher with a string of dodgy relationships behind her - lands up on a beach in New Zealand as the world as we know it ends. She, and the stranger she meets there, miraculously survive. Distinctive Before and After chapters chart her previous life and what happens next in a compelling and entertaining way.
Wow! I loved this book so much and was drawn in completely from the beginning. This book is epic in every sense of the word. There are two threads to this story: One were we follow Ruth Before the event that changes her life and one where she learns to navigate her new world after. Ruth is a great character who is likeable, but also relatable and flawed like the rest of us. She has great friends and a loving family, but has fallen into a claustrophobic relationship. News repots are peppered through her daily life, but she shy's away from finding out what is really going on. Eventually she makes a decision to fly to the other side of the world, and as life as she knows it ends, she begins a new journey with a stranger, Nik. This tale of hope and wonder, love and what it means to survive is beautifully told. It is moving and also exciting. A truly fantastic story to get swept up in. Thank you to NetGalley and to Hodder and Stoughton for the opportunity to read this advanced copy.
This is a really unusual and interesting post-apocalyptic survival tale. Ruth's before and after story is told in alternate chapters. I like the way that Ruth is largely unaware of what is happening and the actual cause for the disaster is not spelled out. I will say no more as the joy of reading this book is the surprises it reveals. It goes far and beyond any other story of this genre and actually has a hopeful, if bitter sweet, ending. The writing style is lovely. I was engrossed from the start.
This book blew me away. It is rare to find a book that surprises me to the extent that I was surprised by The Stranding. The book is about Ruth, a typical 20 something singleton living in London with Alex. He started off as someone exciting but now she's not so sure and she is reconsidering her options. So far so formulaic - but then Ruth decides it's time to move on. She travels to the other side of the world and discovers when she arrives that the worst has happened - and her life will never be the same. Stranded far from home and with little chance of survival, she takes shelter in the mouth of a whale with a stranger she meets on the beach. What they emerge into afterwards is a world that could not be more different to the one she left. This is a book about grabbing the good times when they come around, enjoying the little things, and never settling, because you cannot possibly know what is around the corner. What would you do if you had to start again with nothing ?
I thought this quite a positive book, given the post-apocalyptic subject matter. The book throws together a couple who meet by chance on a beach in New Zealand and then hours later shelter from armageddon in the body of a stranded blue whale. The narrative is told from the perspective of the woman, and tells through flashbacks the story of why she happens to be on the beach on that day. It tells of her whirlwind romance and gradual disillusionment with her controlling boyfriend in London before her trip to New Zealand, and this is interwoven with the story of how the couple survive and thrive in their beach home, surviving off the food that the grow, catch and scavenge from the locality. One of the key themes in the book is about love and what it means to be in love. It contrasts the heady, almost chemical feelings she has pre-stranding with the solid, gradual and consistent love she has post-stranding. It leaves the reader in no doubt as to which makes people happier.
Oh my! What a book. What concept had me intrigued. A woman survives the end of the world by hiding inside of a whale. But this story is about so much more than survival. It's about nature, about human behaviour and the true meaning of love. I read this in a day - just couldn't put it down. A unique and wonderful read.
Wow - what a captivating and unsettling book! I read it in one whole day because I couldn’t put it down and then couldn’t stop thinking about it. A story told in twin strands - Before and After - leading you in a circle through Ruth’s life from past to present. Full of love, hope and horror, it will leave you dazed. How would you survive if your world literally ended before your eyes?
This book absolutely blew me away, I read it basically all in one (very unplanned) sitting after I had to try the prologue a few times before I really got hooked. It's so hard to sum up this book neatly without either making it sound grim or twee, but it's not really either: it's about life and death (before and) after the end of the world. I found it a really intense read, despite how hopeful it manages to be, and really gripping, despite how mundane a lot of it is. I haven't ever really read anything that meshes together so well a longer-term post-apocalyptic storyline (think: The Road, Oryx and Crake, The Day of The Triffids,) with a melancholy slice of life type narrative that is only thematically tied to the former in a character driven way - a lot of dual narrative apocalyptic books focus on the pre-catastrophe and the events that lead up to that, but Ruth is just living her life, if anything she's actively avoiding the news cycle. The two stories are joined by Ruth's journey and growth and relationships, not the end of the world and how that came to be. I really love the prose and Sawyer's writing style, I personally find present tense really engaging and readable, and I think it works very well for this book given there is so much *doing*. An awful lot of the story set in the 'After' is detailing the business of survival, but I never felt bored by it. I liked that the 'Before' stuck to this as well, rather than switching to past tense (which would've been my guess) because both narratives weave together much better like this, and it makes the past seem kind of dreamier, weirdly, having something you know is in the past (the Before) still being described as immediate has that effect. There's a really strange comparison that happens when you go from reading about people trying desperately to survive to reading about someone's parents disapproving of their boyfriend. It never makes the Before storyline feel trivial, exactly, but it does sort of nudge you in that direction. The POV switching works quite nicely although it's much more rapid than I would normally prefer, but once I was used to it, it didn't take me out of the story at all. I definitely liked that Nik's POV was included, I think being stuck entirely in Ruth's head would've made the story too claustrophobic (and the ending a bit jarring.) I found myself going back over all the little bits of information Sawyer gives about the nature of the disaster to try and figure out what happened - which is definitely not something you're supposed to be able to do. This book very deliberately withholds the details from you, and whilst I think that was a great choice, I couldn't help but keep trying, anyway. There are more and more clues dropped and you really do feel like you might find out - but you don't. On the one hand, I think that staying away from this is great - it doesn't become miserable or gruesome for the sake of it, and it's just more universal and character-driven when you're not concerned with the details. But on the other hand, I was desperate to know! I think this is me bringing more of my expectations of the genre than anything else, and I kind of liked that it denied me throughout. That aside, the post-apocalypse storyline unfolds quite predictably but so beautifully I can't fault it at all. I sniffled my way through the last chapters despite seeing it coming a mile off, and I suppose that's where the dual storylines come together so well - the unravelling of Ruth's 'Before' life takes over when the 'After' life follows more predictable patterns. I requested this e-ARC on NetGalley after seeing so many positive things on twitter, and it was a delight to read.
I thought this was an incredible book. I was pulled in right away by the writing and the imagery, I too have always loved whales. This is beautifully written, poignant and yet also it has a certain spark to it. The characters – especially Ruth – felt utterly real, and I found myself completely absorbed in the dual narrative: what happened to her in the lead-up to finding herself at the site of a stranded whale at the end of the world (as we know it), and what will happen to her now. I found the world-building in particular quite extraordinary, and yet this is a very human story. For a book with a bleak outlook on the future of our species, it also ended for me with a feeling of hope. I loved it!
The synopsis for this book really drew me in from the start. The book follows Ruth who travels from the UK to New Zealand and shelters from the end of the world in the mouth of a stranded whale. For me, it didn’t sound like anything I had ever read. The chapters throughout alternate between before (mainly in London) and after (in New Zealand) and I think this worked really well as it compelled me to continue to read so I could find out what had happened at the end of the last chapter. The way the two stories then meet at the end is heartbreaking as you know what is about to happen. There is an air of mystery around how the end of the world actually comes about. This is both clever and frustrating in a way as I wanted to know what had happened (but that’s just me being inquisitive!!). This book is beautifully descriptive - I truly felt transported to New Zealand and the author did a fantastic job of setting the scene of how Ruth’s world looked after. I would have loved a little more from the ending. This is not a criticism, it had to end somewhere, but I had enjoyed it so much that I wanted to know more. I would love a second book to carry on the story! Needless to say, I would definitely recommend this. Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for this ARC.
A truly amazing book! I have nothing but admiration for Kate Sawyer as both a story teller and writer. It isn’t often that both these skills collide but when they do it is both breathtaking and totally immersive. The ‘then’ and ‘now’ storyline device seems to be used quite frequently these days and I often find it to be off putting, but the way in which Kate handles this is so well done that I feel I cannot criticise her decision. In fact when both meet at the end of the story it is heartbreaking. I do still feel several days later a little tearful, this for me is the pinnacle of writing and I hope to see it become a classic. It would make an admirable addition to the reading lists for any college or university. Thank you Netgalley, publisher and especially Kate Sawyer for the opportunity to read this 5 star book in exchange for an honest review.
A moving end of the world style book. Made me think of Station 11 and will definitely stay with me. Worth a read and don’t be out of by the first few jarring pages.
I really enjoyed this book! It was a little bit dystopian and spanned the lives of two people stranded on an island, a seemingly Adam and Eve type story. Fabulous!
the stranding - kate sawyer there’s something so comforting about reading end of the world books and this is one of the best i’ve read set on a beach in new zealand it follows two strangers, ruth and nik, after they survive a nuclear blast and have to find their way in this new world. it flashes back to the protagonist’s life before, her family, her boyfriend, and the reasons that lead her to boarding a plane and flying across the world one of the things i loved most was the way time passes, never at the pace you expect. it takes you through such a peaceful, hopeful, resourceful way of life, though you’re aware you’re never far from danger, this being a nuclear apocalypse and everything i really loved the characters and the ones i hated i even loved the language around them, the way your perspective changes as ruth’s does. i loved the friendships, the families, the community i’m tipping into that stage when you love a book so much you become gushy and useless in your review and all you can say to everyone is please love yourself and read it it gives me all the same feelings station eleven did, which is huge for me, but it turns out peace at the end of the world is exactly what i need
This was a very unique book. A bit strange at times, but it does make you stop and think. What is important in life and would running away actually change things. I really enjoyed this book, but can honestly say I’ve never read anything like it before.
Simply unlike anything else I’ve read - in the best possible way! A book to devour in a single sitting, I was alternately enthralled by Ruth’s determination to survive and even thrive in the strange new world she finds herself in and a sense of foreboding as the events that led up to that new life creep ever nearer. Never morose, despite the post-apocalyptic backdrop to much of the story, the principal thread running through it focuses so strongly on the strength of the human spirit, especially the female spirit, so much so I was left with a strong sense of hope when I finished reading, along with wondering what on earth to read next that could possibly live up to this!
I am absolutely haunted by this book. Set across two timelines of one main character told concurrently, I spent all,the time reading one version/ timeline and desperately wanting to know more about the other version of Ruth’s life, then vice Versa. Ruth’s fantastic parents and loving friend Frances. Her intriguing and inspiring life after the event which changed everything, Both were utterly compelling. Ruth’s life in ‘The Before’ seems so mundane and so true of many ordinary lives, yet the changes she undergoes, the skills she masters, the depth of her feelings, worries and love, loneliness and a deep sense of self in ‘The After’ show her to be an even more fascinating and full person. The life she lead, and the person she becomes is inspiring, how she moved from being controlled to living a free and alternative life in ‘The After’. To say more would be to add spoilers, and this is a book to be read, savoured, to fully immerse yourself in, to vicariously live Ruth’s amazing rich life. I will be highly recommending this to everyone. Thanks to @NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book ahead of publication in exchange for an honest review #NetGalley
Oh my word. What a book. Jonah meets Noah is this modern literary masterpiece. I loved it. So unusual but still expertly crafted. I'll expand this review when I do a newspaper write up.
A time shift tale set Before and After some kind of apocalypse. A gripping tale of survival and relationships when facing the end of humanity. . Engaging writing style that kept me turning the pages. Thought-provoking, tender and original. Highly recommended. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this novel. This is my unbiased opinion of the book.
The Stranding is a really gripping, immersive and cleverly written story with realistic multi-dimensional characters. I really enjoyed it and read most of it over one day! I loved how the 'before' and 'after' timelines are interwoven seamlessly throughout the book.
I could not put this down. The Stranding is the story of Ruth told through flashbacks to her past where she is living in London, as a primary school teacher in a relationship born out of an extra marital affair, and her life in the present where she is living in a post apocalyptic New Zealand. I had seen so many amazing reviews of this before I read it and it completely lives up to all of those reviews. I may have swerved this, given the premise, in the fear that it would be depressing but it never is. The story never gets bogged down in the details of what happens to create the disaster that wipes out most of the population and there are no pressing feelings of impending doom when you read about Kate’s earlier life in London - instead amazingly this story is almost poetic and hopeful and asks you to examine what you really need in order to live a fulfilling and contented life. A brilliant read that will stay with me!
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.
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 ⭐️
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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
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.
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!!!
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.
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.