Review: Lyrically Looming, Jennifer Mills’ Dyschronia

6 February 2018

Jennifer Mills: Dyschronia
Picador by Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018.
ISBN 9781760552206, pp. 357, $29.99

“Here’s a prediction: the future never turns out the way we think it will. Simple enough, but that’s not the end of it. The past isn’t what we thought it was either.” (237)

You have no idea what you’re in for when you pick up a copy of Jennifer Mills’ Dyschronia. Captivated by the front cover’s ominous art work, you, the reader will never be sure what’s coming next and where the story goes.

Following the life of Sam and the thirteen or so other remaining residents of the Australian coastal village of Clapstone, readers are faced with turbulent alterations of time throughout the novel as the town changes ownership and it becomes the goal of many companies, such as Apsco Asphalt to ‘improve’ the community. From a young age, Sam suffers horrendous migraines that give her premonitions of events to come. It is said that “everyone had headaches. But only Sam claimed there was meaning to them” (32). As Sam predicts the disappearance of the sea and multiple suicides, the “pain and perception of time created a dissociative loop, a splitting migraine as a self-fulfilling prophecy” (64). Through this Mills offers us a tormenting tale of time and the Australian landscape.

The novel is heartbreakingly Australian, and as a resident of a small growing town, I felt a resonance with the writing. Everyone knows what you are doing on a given day. There is no escape from your surroundings. This is even more prevalent from Sam, who cannot escape it in any timeline.

“When is this?” she asked her mother.
“You mean what.” Ivy frowned between towels.
“Oh yeah.” Sam smiled, but her eyes betrayed a panic. (19-20)

Mills’ writing is poetry. I admired the way that the voices changed throughout the novel – the omniscient “we” speaking for some chapters, combined with Sam’s own perspective, kept me on my toes. However, whilst I was captivated by this consistent curving of time, I constantly felt like I was missing something. Like I needed to sit down and read this book with a group to understand it further. However, this may be a strength in some ways, such as for analysis in a literature class – which I do hope becomes a thing as I would love to learn more and read varying opinions. It’s intriguing and difficult to pull yourself away from – like a migraine itself, the voices of this book echo long after the initial interaction.

I also felt there was a strong sense of environmentalism within the novel. Constant concerns for the ocean, and the lack of “end to the garbage” (179) we deposit into the world. Mills holds strong concerns for the means in which we interact with the world. The past, after all, impacts the future.

Dyschronia is not a book I would have initially picked up, however upon reading it, it has opened new ways of considering the world for myself. If you’re looking for a beautifully written read that will keep you on your toes and leave you haunted long afterwards, this is it.

“There is a thread. A ligature. Time trundles on its axis, and it unravels. A line is a line. She follows behind.” (293)

This book was provided by Picador.

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