2017 In Review: And The Winner Is...

on Sunday, December 31, 2017

An unnamed guy turns up in an unnamed town somewhere neither coastal nor inland in country New South Wales. He's writing a book about disappearing towns; not the kind that die off because all the young people leave but towns that quite simply cease to exist. The town he has arrived in has yet to start disappearing, but it's a prime candidate. Still, our narrator gets a job stacking shelves at the local Woolworths supermarket, finds a housemate, hangs out at the pub, kind of falls for a girl who hosts a show nobody listens to on the local radio station, befriends the town's only bus driver, goes about his business and tries not to get bashed by some random guy that supposedly has it in for him. Then holes start appearing in the town.

It's weird. It's thrilling. It's a goddamned fucking masterpiece. This, dear Bookworms, is Shaun Prescott's magnificent debut, The Town.

Riffing off of early-to-mid 20th century European legends like Bernhard, Walser and Kafka, via experimental film, underground music and even video games, Prescott manages to create a seemingly familiar world that is, at the same time, completely foreign and disorienting. It is a distillation of small town ennui, refracted through a constantly shifting lens, where entire parallel universes are created like hallucinatory side quests. Sometimes, these come through in the form of confessional parables, like when the town's bus driver recalls his failed efforts as a music tour promoter or Ciara, the aforementioned radio host, creates entirely new genres of music for no apparent reason. Other times, it is the boredom itself that reigns: in the pub, at the local Michele's Patisserie. Prescott proves a master of narrative control, ensuring the most ordinary interactions are cloaked in a haze of foreboding. It's an unsettling experience, reading the loose set pieces knowing that something isn't quite right, but not being able to put your finger on it. It is also fucking funny. You know, the kind of funny when you're one step away from shitting your pants.

I have little doubt that I will be returning to The Town again and again over the coming years. It's the kind of book that clearly rewards multiple readings. For me, it is also a watershed moment in Australian literary fiction - a reinvention of what the contemporary Australian novel can be. Published by The Lifted Brow, the quirky collective of folks that, it is becoming ever more apparent, are all freakish literary savants, The Town has already been snapped up by major publishers overseas. I intend on being first in line to order each new edition. I suggest you get behind me.

And that, I guess, brings another year to a close. Sorry for neglecting you but I hope it was all for a good cause. I've had a fun week getting this old rustbucket back into gear. Expect to see a lot more of me here in 2018. Hope to see you around. Much love and new year's goodness to you all. And, most of all, happy reading!


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