- Wednesday, April 05, 2017
Storyland is Catherine McKinnon’s second novel, and a gloriously ambitious and rewarding work of historical fiction. Set on the shores of Lake Illawarra, south of modern-day Wollongong, the action moves from an imagined episode of exploration by a young man aboard Bass and Flinders’ boat in 1796, through a narrative connecting five people across the centuries until a chilling tale of climate catastrophe set in the middle of the 21st Century sends us back through the story chain to where we began (and if that narrative pattern sounds familiar to fans of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, it should, as McKinnon is surely a very capable admirer of that novel’s daring structure). And this is a quintessentially Australian novel: in a sense the history of post-colonial Australia is boldly, arrestingly embodied in the entwined story lines of Storyland. Also - It’s odd, if you’re me, and people keep telling you about a book you MUST read. Quite naturally, you resist, and then, when you finally relent, you’re bowled over by the obvious excellence of said book. Such is the case with Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday, a novella so perfectly crafted that its only shortcoming is its brevity. Since the brilliant Last Orders was published 20 years ago, I’ve eagerly devoured everything Swift has published, but in my opinion this is the best thing he’s written. Exquisite in every way, in the story (‘romance’) it tells and the story it conceals (it is in a very real way a book about writing), it is compact, intense, beautifully and sensually erotic, and a tragic drama.