Book Review: Where the World Ends  

By Geraldine McCaughrean

Published by Usborne

We’re in the eighteenth century and the Hebrides, tucked away in one of Britain’s remotest corners. The village community more or less subsists on seabirds and their by-products. Quill and a group of boys are – almost as a right of passage – left on a rock with three rather iffy adults to gather birds in readiness for the winter. They will be picked up by boat a couple of weeks later but of course, something (no spoilers) goes wrong and they’re not. So it’s a survival story in desert island tradition. Think The Tempest, Lord of the Flies, Robinson Crusoe et al or much closer to home the real life touch-and-go plight of the Thai boys rescued from an underground cave in the nick of time this summer.

Based on a true story about a group of boys who really did survive the harshness of a North Sea winter on an inhospitable stac without supplies, Where the World Ends is an imaginative account of how on earth the boys would/might/could have managed. When one of them climbs to a dizzying height to snatch a few puffins, fulmars or guillemots you’re there with them, the rock perilous beneath your feet and the wind howling about you. When they shelter in caves lit by fulmar oil you can smell the atmosphere. As Quill dreams of a girl he met briefly before the bird gathering trip, you hope desperately that he’ll meet her again eventually. Then there’s group dynamics and McCaughrean is very good at that too. John turns out to be a rather unusual boy (read it and see), Murdo is a splendidly decent type and Quill emerges as a leader of sorts because he’s got plenty of common sense and can read. There’s also a chilling but well observed account of Cane, an adult, who redevelops himself as a sort of religious minister so that he can control everyone. It then emerges that he has sexual designs on one of the group.

This compelling and unusual novel won the 2108 Carnegie Medal – good choice.

Review by Susan Elkin