I attended the book launch for Storyland and left feeling very excited to read this and in fact started it the next day. A short description of this book is that effectively it is Cloud Atlas but set in Australia. Set along the Illawarra across four centuries we meet five very different characters and learn their stories of living on the land.
Much like Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas we meet the five characters, each living in a different time point from the past to the present to the future. These stories are all, however, set in the same region, along Lake Illawarra which is south of Sydney in New South Wales. Each of the characters are linked in some way, whether it be by the land, or blood or history. I loved McKinnon’s transitions from character to character. They were seamless and smooth.
Each of the characters were very unique, some likeable and some were not. My favourites were Lola, an unsurprising common favourite. She was a strong, independent woman trying to do fight by her family in a harsh time that was made harsher if you were a woman without a husband. Bel was another favourite but completely different. She is a child and her perspective it described in the innocent way that only children can. She is an unusual soul and the way her mind works is unique and fascinating. I really enjoyed McKinnon’s glimpses into the future, they seem all too possible which is a terrifying thought.
An added bonus in this story is that many of the past stories have some basis in truth. Will’s story is based on an expedition with Flinders and Bass and was written after consultation with Flinder’s diaries for accuracy but from the perspective of their servant boy, Willian Martin. The character of Hawker is based on a true event where an Aboriginal woman was shot and mauled for stealing corn, an all too common story in those days that is no less horrific. In Bel’s story an ancient skeleton was dislodged in a storm, another even that occurred in the 90’s in this area. These fictional stories steeped in truth and accuracy lend this novel a little something more, lend it more reliability and impact on the reader.
The experience of reading this book was supplemented by the good fortune of having just listened to Girt by David Hunt as an audiobook in the days prior. I, therefore, understood the references to Bass and Flinders, Bennelong and Macquarie giving it a little something extra. It certainly adds to the enjoyment if you are familiar with Australian history but won’t make the novel any less enjoyable if you aren’t. If you are not overly familiar with Australian history, particularly if you are Australian yourself, I do recommend David Hunt’s unofficial Australian histories in Girt and True Girt (next up on my audiobook list). His books are a comical, yet accurate explanation of Australia’s history, which I found fascinating. We don’t learn a lot about our own (accurate) history at school and I found this a fascinating experience. Our history is at times so ridiculous that it sounds like fiction.
The only slight let down for me was that the ending seemed slightly anti-climactic but in a way it suits the style of the book and finishes of the tale nicely. I would highly recommend picking this book up. I have no doubt that Storyland will eventually become an Aussie classic, a tale of life in Australia and how we are all interconnected. I give Storyland four lyrebirds.