Book Spotlight: Dustfall by Michelle Johnston
There is much at work in the story of Dustfall. It is not only a novel about Wittenoom and what happened there, but a story about second chances, and a story about stories. In writing the story of what may have happened during Wittenoom's last days, Lou is given the chance to take back some control of a narrative, a therapy that she badly needs given that as a doctor, sometimes there is only so much that one can do. In telling the story of Raymond and the town, she gives a voice to the victims of the mining company, and in some small way, gives them justice. But she also gives herself a gift. It is through this writing about another doctor and another time that she is able to order her thoughts and see a bigger picture, allowing herself to face the things in her own life that trouble her. And though her past errors hang over her for much of the book, the reader begins to trust through the integrity of this woman that they are following from page to page, that perhaps she is being harder on herself than she needs to be.
There is a surprising connection between hospitals and storytelling. The body tells a story when it is sick or hurt, using symptoms to guide doctors and nurses to what it needs to heal. There is a story in every family member sitting by a bedside. There is a story in every grief. There is a story in every exhausted doctor or nurse who sits down to wait for the next emergency. And there is a kind of tragic, heroic beauty in all of these stories, a kind of poetry, which Michelle Johnston understands. Her writing is masterful. It is beautiful and elegiac and I hope the Miles Franklin judges for 2018 are paying attention because I have a strong contender for them right here.
Read Dustfall. Reread it. Read some of the passages aloud because there is music in them. You will be moved.
You can catch Michelle Johnston in conversation with me next Sunday the 25th of February at the Perth Writers Festival. Tickets can be purchased here.
You can also catch her at various library events around Perth, including the Cambridge Library on April the 10th.