Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills

In recent years, a number of Australian authors have turned their attention to the interrelated effects of climate change, the disintegration of rural communities, the growing power of corporations and the omnipresence of social media. Lois Murphy’s Soon and Briohny Doyle’s The Island Will Sink are examples of this trend. When faced with unprecedented and alarming changes to everyday life, it makes sense that authors are seeking new ways to tell a story, borrowing elements from fantasy and science-fiction to write about an increasingly surreal reality. Jennifer Mill’s Dyschronia adds a new voice to this growing chorus.

The residents of the seaside town of Clapstone wake one morning to find that the sea has vanished, leaving behind detritus in the form of rotting sea creatures. This is just the latest in a series of setbacks and tragedies that have befallen the embattled town, and the consequences of this natural disaster play out with a frightening inevitability, as the residents struggle to survive and adapt. Although scientists fail to predict or explain the disaster, a young woman from Clapstone has seen it all happen before. Sam has suffered from migraine-induced visions of the future since childhood, so why did she not warn the town of this impending catastrophe?

Mills conveys Sam’s increasingly confused perception of time through an appropriately nonlinear narrative structure, weaving together past, present and future to question ideas of fate and causality. Chapters move between Sam’s story and the story of the town as a collective, told in the first person plural: we. This ‘we’ makes the reader part of a group formed and bound together by our hubristic attempts – and ultimately our failure – to dominate a harsh, unforgiving landscape; we are complicit in environmental catastrophe and vulnerable to the unleashed forces of nature.

Freya Howarth works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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Jennifer Mills

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