Who are we? How did we get here and how long do we get to stay? These are the questions posed to readers in Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland, the stories of five different people spanning centuries on the banks of Lake Illawarra.
We begin with Will, a young cabin boy in 1796 on the brink of a great discovery, desperate to prove himself. We then meet the shrewd and calculating Seth Hawker in 1822, an ex-convict who would do anything to be a free man; followed by Lola in 1900, who runs a small dairy with her siblings who become embroiled in the disappearance of a young girl; then Bel in 1998, a child with a taste of adventure who learns about the real world when she meets a new friend. Finally, there’s Nada, who in 2033 sees her beloved home ravaged by natural disaster.
McKinnon constructs a landscape that seems to live and breathe with a life of its own. Her descriptions are never cumbersome and are filled with stunning, almost cinematic visual imagery interlaced with delicate symbols. Her characters are vividly materialised through their distinct voices conveying their motivations and unique personalities. She builds suspense and tension throughout the novel that makes for a dynamic and charged reading experience. I also really enjoyed the framing narrative structure, reminiscent of Frankenstein, and it was delightful being able to spot the links that made their stories intertwine almost seamlessly. Nada’s story being in the centre of the narrative provided a haunting glimpse at what the future may hold and left a resounding reminder that our actions today will have severe repercussions in the future.
There were some instances, however, that I thought the plot could have been slightly more developed. I love a good cliff-hanger but the conclusion of one of the character’s storylines was so abrupt, it felt as though there was a paragraph or two missing. I personally would not have minded if certain sections were a little longer, some more closure could have made them more impactful. In saying that, this didn’t detract from the connection I felt to her characters and ultimately, it was a poignant and moving novel.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys literary fiction, reading about Australian landscapes or is looking to read more Australian literature; especially, if you enjoyed other Australian classics like My Place. Storyland is a well-crafted, thought-provoking and readable novel that tells the Australian tales of adventurers, opportunists, immigrants and survivors. With a stunning cover to boot, I’d recommend everyone give it a try.
Madu is a second year Medical Sciences student who will be getting you a book for your birthday whether you want one or not.