In 1796, a young cabin boy, Will Martin, goes on a voyage of discovery in the Tom Thumb with Matthew Flinders and Mr Bass: two men and a boy in a tiny boat on an exploratory journey south from Sydney Cove to the Illawarra, full of hope and dreams, daring and fearfulness.
Set on the banks of Lake Illawarra and spanning four centuries, Storyland is a unique and compelling novel of people and place - which tells in essence the story of Australia. Told in an unfurling narrative of interlinking stories, in a style reminiscent of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, McKinnon weaves together the stories of Will Martin together with the stories of four others: a desperate ex-convict, Hawker, who commits an act of terrible brutality; Lola, who in 1900 runs a dairy farm on the Illawarra with her brother and sister, when they come under suspicion for a crime they did not commit; Bel, a young girl who goes on a rafting adventure with her friends in 1998 and is unexpectedly caught up in violent events; and in 2033, Nada, who sees her world start to crumble apart.
Intriguingly, all these characters are all connected - not only through the same land and water they inhabit over the decades, but also by tendrils of blood, history, memory and property...
Compelling, thrilling and ambitious, Storyland is our story, the story of Australia. 'The land is a book waiting to be read' as one of the characters says - and this novel tells us an unforgettable and unputdownable story of our history, our present and our future.
Review by Ilse Scheepers
Storyland begins in 1796 with Will Martin, a young man who accompanies Matthew Flinders and George Bass as they seek a steady water supply for the growing colony of Sydney Cove. They are men in a strange new land, fearful of "cannibals" and surrounded by a towering, alien landscape.
They make their way to the Illawarra, south of Sydney, where the mountains shrug into the sea, and lushness abounds. And it is here that McKinnon executes her first neat trick. Mid-sentence, mid-moment, we riffle forward in time (but not space) to the story of ex-convict Harker and his nefarious imaginings and desires. As with Will, just as we settle into his story, with its distinct texture and tone, we again slip forward to a new one, to Nell, a dairy farmer.
McKinnon has created a mobius strip of a novel, where the story-land we inhabit changes slowly, while the players upon it slide past like slivered fish in a stream. Thrown forward into the future, the land has changed and a frantic sense of loss and fear permeates the pages as Nada narrates the ruination of her world.
And still the narrative slides and smooths its way through our fingers, a silk cord, a river, a stream of earth falling through the fingers, as we find our way through time and back again. Storyland bends genre around itself, pulling readers through what could, in the hands of a less confident author, have been shocking fractures in the narrative. Here, they are handled with such poise and skill that it's hard to go back to reading 'normal' novels again. A genuine tour de force.
About the Author
Catherine McKinnon is a novelist and playwright. Most recently, she was a co-winner of the Griffith Review Novella 111 Award, 2015. In 2006 she won the Penguin Women's Weekly Award for her short story Haley and the Sea. Her play Tilt was selected for the 2010 National Play writing Festival, and As I Lay Dreaming won the 2010 Mitch Matthews Award. Her short stories, reviews and articles have appeared in Transnational Literature, Text Journal, RealTime and Narrative. She teaches performance and creative writing at the University of Wollongong.
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"'See that lake there,' Uncle Ray says, looking along the side of his house to the water. 'That was here before any of us, and that creek that runs down from the mountain to the lake, that was here too, and the mountain, and the trees, and the birds. We're part of their story, not the other way around'"
Storyland is the second novel by Australian teacher, playwright, theatre director and author, Catherine McKinnon. A cabin boy, an ex-convict, a dairy farmer, a young schoolgirl and a middle-aged woman are the narrators that McKinnon uses to tell a tale that spans centuries.
Will Martin is the fifteen-year-old cabin boy who accompanies Bass and Flinders in the Tom Thumb in 1796 on a trip south to find a river for the Governor. They unintentionally end up near Hat Hill, in desperate need of fresh water but are wary of the natives they encounter.
Will has earlier learned bits of their language and the Southern sky: "Now I gaze up at the stars and moon every night and, moreover, speak the in two languages, where once I did not give thought to them at all. Now I know how big the world is. Before, not knowing the world's bigness meant that tomorrow looked like yesterday. Yet knowing makes it harder to spy ahead, as now I see tomorrow as unmade and know it will always be so"
Tending cornfields and fending off the natives on the shores of this godforsaken lake with only a lazy skulker to help is not what ex-convict Hawker wants to be doing in the harvest time of 1822. Trying to impress the landowner's overseer in the hope of a transfer to the cooler climes and better conditions of Appin, he perpetrates a shocking act of violence.
In 1900, Lola McBride runs a herd of 21 Illawarra Red Shorthorn cattle with her half-sister Mary and her half-brother, Abe, right by Mullet Creek at the edge of the Five Islands Estate. They are surprised to encounter a derogatory attitude from a neighbour, and when his daughter disappears, is quick to lay blame.
Ten-year-old Bel is glad
Number Of Pages: 400
Published: 1st April 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 21.2 x 15.5 x 3.0
Weight (kg): 0.46