Books

Gunflower by Laura Jean McKay review – a work of rare depth and skill

There is a queasy, unearthly quality to McKay’s prose that never draws conclusions, preferring to leave the reader to fill in the pieces

Gunflower book cover

The Australian author Laura Jean McKay previously won the Clarke Award for science fiction for her terrific novel The Animals in that Country, a book that examined humanity’s problematic links to the animal world in a disturbing yet funny way. Her new collection of short stories, Gunflower, has some echoes of that, but travels into previously uncharted waters for the author. Flash fiction pieces are interspersed between longer stories, some speculative or science fictional in nature, others more grounded in reality; the two things bouncing off each other to create a vision of the world as it is and as it could be. 

This is encapsulated beautifully in the title story, in which a woman boards an abortion ship off the coast of America, which provides that service in international waters to avoid strict anti-abortion laws on land. There is a queasy, unearthly quality to McKay’s prose that never draws conclusions, preferring to leave the reader to fill in the pieces. It’s not often that a short story collection feels like more than the sum of its parts, but Gunflower is a work of rare depth and skill. 

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist.

Gunflower book cover

Gunflower by Laura Jean McKay is out now (Scribe, £9.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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