Basin: A Novel by Scott McCulloch
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.