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Title: Lark Ascending
Author: Silas House
Published: 27th of September 2022 – Algonquin Books
Format: Digital (eARC) – 288 pages
Hello Hello! How are you?
Today I am thrilled to be bringing you my review for Lark Ascending by Silas House, currently on #BlogTour with Algonquin Books. I love all the blog tours I participate in for this publisher and the books are always fantastic. The theme continues with this title, I loved it!
Thank you so much to Katrina and the whole team at Algonquin for letting me take part in this tour, it is always an honour. And thank you for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
A riveting story of survival and hope, set in the not-too-distant future, about a young man forced to flee the United States and seek refuge across the Atlantic.
As fires devastate most of the United States, Lark and his family secure a place on a refugee boat headed to Ireland, the last country not yet overrun by extremists and rumored to be accepting American refugees. But Lark is the only one to survive the trip, and once ashore, he doesn’t find the safe haven he’d hoped for. As he runs for his life, Lark finds an abandoned dog who becomes his closest companion, and then a woman in search of her lost son. Together they form a makeshift family and attempt to reach Glendalough, a place they believe will offer protection. But can any community provide the safety that they seek?
For readers of novels such as Station Eleven, The Dog Stars, and Migrations, Lark Ascending is a moving and unforgettable story of friendship, family, and healing.
Trigger warnings: tough survival, loss, grief, murder, death, famine, desolation, war, violence, hanging, “concentration” camps, mass murders, animal euthanasia (mentioned), branding (tattoos), factions, blood, gore, vomiting, injuries. If I have missed any triggers, please let me know in the comments so I can add them!
Lark Ascending by Silas House is a riveting yet devastating science fiction, dystopian tale of one man’s survival and hope for a better life. I can always count on Algonquin for poignant and very important books. All those I’ve read from this publisher so far have had a very strong message and while not outwardly my kind of read usually, they’ve always left me speechless at the end and completely in awe. I knew when I started Lark Ascending that it would be a similar experience for me.
This book has multiple settings, but the most important and longest is in Ireland. We first meet Lark as he is on a small boat with about 40 other refugees, fleeing from America where life as we know it has been completely overturned due to massive fires, famine, violence and cruel factions taking power during this struggle for life. The same thing is repeated throughout the world, but Ireland is the last place accepting refugees as we join these characters.
They spend a lot of time navigating the Atlantic Ocean, trying to reach the Irish shore before their rations run out or before they turn on one another. Throughout this dangerous journey, it is literally all hands on deck to ensure their survival, but there is definitely this feeling of desolation and fear.
The setting I enjoyed reading about the most was once Lark reached Ireland. He struggles through the Irish landscape for weeks, coming across people or soldiers he has to hide from, slowly coming to grips with the fact that maybe Ireland is not the safe haven they all once thought. This whole voyage kind of made me think of a reversal of the American dream. When the whole world is crumbling, people come back to their roots, to the places the first settlers came from, hoping for refuge and security, above all a better life. I won’t hide the fact that it isn’t the better life they were hoping for and it is assuredly a hard read at times when Lark comes across violent people and places. But I loved reading about his trekking through the countryside with a very special person by his side (which really pulled on my heartstrings) and seeing the beauty of the land jump off the page with every step Lark took. The author did a great job of describing such a beautiful place, although tinged with the remnants of violence, fear, desolation and solitude.
Lark: Lark is the main character of this book, retelling his life as he is laying on his deathbed 70 years after the time in which the book is set. He is a great narrator and protagonist and had a beautiful way of writing a story that is both heart-wrenching and beautifully tinged with hope. I think that although the themes and the plot of this book are extremely important and prevalent of where our world could be headed one day if we don’t get our shit together (pardon my French!), this is ultimately a character-driven story. What touched me the most what how Lark retells such hard and gruelling times, both before the crossing to Ireland and after he gets there. For me, it was more a story of a man growing, growing up in a way even though he was already an adult, and evolving in a new and terrifying world and country. It was 100% Lark’s life story, how he got where he is on his death bed and everything he had to endure 70 years previously. I loved him as a character and will keep him in my heart for a long time.
Lark’s family and friends: I won’t say too much about these people because a lot of things happen and I don’t want to spoil you, but I particularly liked reading about Arlo and Lark’s parents. Both parents seemed so caring and protective of Lark while also telling him the truth about the world, and giving him the tools to continue on living if ever they are separated. His mother was particularly a strong character whom I really liked.
Seamus: I have to say that next to Lark, Seamus was my favourite character. He is a dog – one of the last ones in this world and time (I won’t say why) – and he has a few chapters to himself where we hear his voice and thoughts, in which he becomes the narrator for a short while. As you know, I have two dogs currently and have always had dogs around me, being very much a dog person, so whenever a dog is featured in a story, it just endears me so much more to it. I loved Seamus and felt both sad and overjoyed for him at multiple points in the book. In the end, I think he got the life he deserved and I am just so glad the author chose to include him as such an important character.
Helen: Finally, Helen is a character that Lark meets in Ireland. I don’t want to say too much about this character but she surprised me a lot. Like all the characters in this book, she was very three-dimensional and real. She had a strength and a determination I’ve rarely seen in books and it was very nice to have some older characters to read about instead of always having young protagonists.
War, famine, the need to flee to survive: I think the most visible theme in this book is that some kind of catastrophe has befallen the whole world and changed life completely, making it akin to times of tyranny and violence. While we don’t ever learn exactly what has happened and what is going on, or even why, you get a strong sense of fear and uncertainty from this book. It reminded me of communist regimes, life during both WW, and the setting was very close to books such as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or 1984 by George Orwell. It is definitely a dark setting and the push for survival is very strong and jumps off the page. You can tell the world is not well, that people have turned on one another and I don’t think you really need to know why or how. It is, in the end, a story of humanity being controlled by those who believe themselves to be the strongest and the righteous, and a tale and murder and survival of the “weakest”. It’s a tale as old as time and it is hard to read at times, but very poignant and important in my opinion… it is a reminder to be kind to one another and to not take our lives for granted.
Survival in a hostile but beautiful setting: Watching Lark travel through Ireland without hardly meeting a soul, having to scavenge and pray for food, shelter, safety, sleep and his ultimate goal of finding Glendalough is also a tough tale to read. But it is also endearing and beautiful to read as it reminds us that we will do anything to survive – not in the bad sense, but Lark is one of the good ones, just trying to find peace and safety. It reminds the reader of all the terrible stories of refugees and immigrants travelling over long distances to be refused and turned away at the final hurdle. And I loved reading about this beautiful setting. Even though the world around Lark is fraught with danger and uncertainties, he takes the time to acknowledge how beautiful our world is.
The importance of keeping loved ones in our hearts: I can’t exactly say why I’m including this point, but I thought it was important to mention as I found Lark’s force for survival and desire for a better world so powerful to read about. He is utterly alone in the world, and yet his parents’ and loved ones’ voices are what keep him going.
Animal companions are always the best: I mentioned this above but I adored the fact that the author included a dog in this book. In this world/setting/time, dogs have been “disappeared” shall we say because of the famines and the terror of having to feed another mouth. When Lark meets Seamus, they both grow very close rapidly and they keep each other going. They had a beautiful friendship and love that only pet owners can truly understand and I loved the feeling that the author was giving us to remember the important things in life, to trust man’s best friend and to find solace in companionship.
A tender account of a man’s life through struggles and heartbreak: Finally, I found it truly beautiful the way in which the author describes Lark’s life, mainly his struggles and voyage to get from North America to Ireland and keep searching for Glendalough. I don’t want to say much more because it’s a tale to completely immerse oneself in, but it was a truly beautiful story and a beautiful writing style. It was a very wholesome book that left me feeling good, even though a bit sad – but aren’t those the best kind of books?
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
As you can tell from this long review, I absolutely adored my time reading this book. It was a very hard book to read at times and the desolation, fear, uncertainty, pain and grief jump off the page at you frequently. But underneath it all, there is always a glimmer of hope that Lark and Seamus cling to and that pushes them forward each step of the way.
The writing style was just stunning. I could picture everything. It was fluid, and it just kept me captivated throughout. It was such an effortless book to read despite the tough themes and the violence with is very present.
I gave Lark Ascending by Silas House 4.5 stars. I really loved it and loved the experience of reading it. I think it’s a book that’ll stay with me for a long time and now I definitely want to discover this author’s backlist.
If you love beautifully written but poignant tales about important themes, and feeling that glimmer of hope despite the violence and bleakness, if you love characters you just want to wrap up in your arms and help through all their struggles, and if you love reading about journeys and personal growth, then this is the book for you. In fact, I recommend checking out all of Algonquin’s books as they’ve not let me down yet!
Atmosphere – 6.5
Start – 7
Pacing – 7.5
Ending – 8
Characters – 8
Theme – 7.5
Style – 8.5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – SILAS HOUSE
Silas House is the nationally bestselling author of six novels–Clay’s Quilt, 2001; A Parchment of Leaves, 2003; The Coal Tattoo, 2005; Eli the Good, 2009; Same Sun Here (co-authored with Neela Vaswani) 2012; Southernmost (2018), as well as a book of creative nonfiction, Something’s Rising, co-authored with Jason Howard, 2009; and three plays.
His work frequently appears in The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Salon. He is a former commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered”. His writing has appeared recently in Time, Ecotone, Oxford American, Garden and Gun, and many other publications.
House serves on the fiction faculty at the Spalding School of Writing and as the National Endowment for the Humanities Chair at Berea College. House is the recipient of three honorary doctorates and is the winner of the Nautilus Award, an EB White Award, the Storylines Prize from the New York Public Library/NAV Foundation, the Appalachian Book of the Year, and many other honors.
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this post.
See you soon, stay safe,