Andrew McGahan’s final book, The Rich Man’s House, opens with an apology. ‘It’s a finished novel – I wouldn’t be letting it out into the world if it wasn’t – but I can’t deny that my abrupt decline in health has forced the publishers and I to hurry the rewriting and editing process extremely, and that this is not quite the book it would have been had cancer not intervened … for once I can fairly plead – I was really going to fix that!’
Exactly how long before his death from pancreatic cancer in February 2019 these words were written isn’t clear, but McGahan’s concern was unfounded. While it’s impossible to say what changes he might have made had he had more time, the novel as it stands feels neither rushed nor unfinished.
At its heart is the brooding physical presence of an imaginary mountain rising from the Southern Ocean between Antarctica and Australia. Christened the Red Wall by Captain Cook, but now known as ‘the Wheel’ due to a typographical error in the first edition of Cook’s Journal, the mountain is of truly astonishing proportions: more than fifteen kilometres taller than Everest, taller even than the vast Olympus Mons on Mars, it rises almost twenty-five kilometres above sea level, stretching far up into the stratosphere, its top so high it can be seen only indistinctly from its base.