Basin: A Novel

Scott McCulloch

Basin: A Novel
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Basin: A Novel

Scott McCulloch

A nomad swallows poison and drowns himself. Resuscitated by a paramilitary bandit named Aslan, Figure is nursed back into a world of violence, sexuality and dementia. Together, Figure and Aslan traverse a coastline erupting in conflict. When the nearest city is ethnically cleansed, Figure escapes on the last ship evacuating to the other isle of the sea. Crossing village to village largely on foot, a slew of outcasts and ghosts guide him as he navigates states of cultural and metaphysical crisis.

Scott McCulloch’s debut novel, Basin, explores the axis of landscape and consciousness. Echoing the modernist tradition, and written in an incendiary yet elliptical prose style, Basin maps the phenomenon of a civilisation being reborn - a hallucinatory elegy to the inter-zones of self and place.


After poisoning and casting himself into the sea, Figure is pulled from the water and resuscitated by a paramilitary bandit named Aslan. Upon recovery, the protagonist finds himself in a landscape of societal rupture. A world of ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence peopled by grifters and scavengers, gambling on blood sport and peddling bathtub gin and snake oil. A dystopia of late-stage capitalism devolving/evolving into a pre-industrial age subsistence under the ominous shadow of war-lordship and undisciplined militia. Figure soon determines that his saviour may not be serving his best interests.

The two characters part company, and Figure begins his largely peripatetic venture through the maritime colonies of the basin, guided and or misguided by an ensemble cast of characters, often no less lost than he; hungry ghosts desperately haunting a spiritual dust bowl. The void fills with pagan practices and shamanistic drug rituals: pickling of animal foetuses; sexual congress with forest-dwelling phantoms; mainline injection of raw fish extract. Figure’s ellipsis of transit through the basin queries the sense of meaning and attachment to the land one inhabits, as he rubs shoulders with an army of lost souls seeking a misconceived refuge.

In parallel, Figure embarks on a dizzying tour of the spectrum of augmented and diminished consciousness, from reality through illusion, disputing borders between nightmare, fantasy and oblivion. As ancient wisdom and modern medicine concur, the difference between poison and remedy is often a matter of dosage, but hazardous is the quest. Atavistic and hallucinatory, jarringly visceral and deeply cerebral, this is a stunning debut from Melbourne-born Scott McCulloch.

Roland Bisshop is from Readings Carlton

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