Death and rebirth are central themes in Moira McKinnon’s debut novel, while a central character of this exquisitely written book is the Kimberley itself.
The reader is effortlessly drawn in by McKinnon’s keen descriptions of the landscape and its first people.
The dry, tropical grasslands and clay pans sculpted by the wet season are brimming with hidden wildlife – and new and ancient secrets.
“The trees were sparse and the red soil had a hardened surface, scattered with spinifex bushes with leaves of dried bone like quills. In sudden eddies of wind the bushes freed themselves from the earth and took off like animals, skimming across the land.”
Cicada also navigates geography of another kind – the complicated web of human relationships that set in motion the engaging plot; part romance, part thriller. It also delves into the uneasy coexistence of black and white Australians in early 1900s Australia.
If you’ve ever dreamt of travelling to the northern stretch of Western Australia and losing yourself in its ancient, steep-sided mountain ranges, then this book will only fuel that wanderlust.
Cicada opens with a birth, an event that should be joyful, but one that reveals a betrayal, and results in heartbreak and murder.
British heiress, Lady Emily Lidscombe, has given birth to a beautiful coloured child, the result of a passionate encounter with an Aboriginal horseman who works for her husband William.
“I saw Jurulu, always in the distance, but I felt close and whenever there was a whistling kite, he would look up and I would too. I’d dream our spirits were together, carried by the kite, and that made me feel good. It is a madness of loneliness. A sinful madness.”
In the wake of her deception and William’s violent rage, Emily is forced to flee into the bush with her Aboriginal maid Wirritjil, pursued by her murderous husband and his black trackers.
The novel charts the journey of the two women deep into the Outback, which for Emily is a frightening alien landscape, far removed from her safe life in Britain and her once-idyllic marriage.
Like the cicada of the title, Emily must shed her skin and undergo a journey of transformation, starting with trusting and learning from Wirritjil who keeps her alive with her bush skills.
Aboriginal lore, magic and Dreamtime mythology are also interwoven with the poetic narrative, reflecting the author’s fascination with indigenous culture and a real-life encounter with a Kadaitcha Man – an Aboriginal sorcerer.
McKinnon, a doctor by trade and a latecomer to writing, has delivered a stunning debut novel, and a love letter to a place that she once called home.
Beautifully written, without a single wasted word, Cicada will draw you in and cast a spell that can only lead back to the ancient red soil and rugged beauty of the Kimberley.
Words: Rebecca Lang