Soon
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Soon

Lois Murphy

An almost deserted town in the middle of nowhere, Nebulah’s days of mining and farming prosperity - if they ever truly existed - are long gone. These days even the name on the road sign into town has been removed. Yet for Pete, an ex-policeman, Milly, Li and a small band of others, it’s the only place they have ever felt at home.

One winter solstice, a strange residual and mysterious mist arrives, that makes even birds disappear. It is a real and potent force, yet also strangely emblematic of the complacency and unease that afflicts so many of our small towns, and the country that Murphy knows so well.

Partly inspired by the true story of Wittenoom, the ill-fated West Australia asbestos town, Soon is the story of the death of a haunted town, and the plight of the people who either won’t, or simply can’t, abandon all they have ever had. With finely wrought characters and brilliant plotting, it is a taut and original novel, where the people we come to know, and those who are drawn to the town’s intrigue, must ultimately fight for survival.

Review

A fleet of forebodingly official-looking vehicles arrives one winter solstice in the West Australian town of Nebulah. The vehicles disappear as mysteriously as they appeared, and with them go the birds and wildlife. Before long, the hauntings begin. A strange mist envelops the town at night, tapping on windows and whispering insults. Those caught outside disappear as mysteriously as the vehicles that were a precursor to the mist. The only safeguard is to hide inside, lock up the doors and windows, and put the telly on. Pete, an ex-cop, and a handful of survivors are all that are left to tell the story.

I found it hard to place Soon, and not in a bad way. It refuses to sit comfortably in any one genre. It draws freely from crime and horror tropes but isn’t restricted to them. It even, in its own way, deals with the corporate take-over of rural and urban Australia, and a government’s unwillingness to assist those in crisis if that crisis is too hard to define. But the story comes mainly from the intense relationships between the few characters that remain in the town. Each has a strange and desperate relationship to each other and the town that everyone else has fled, which only adds to the sense of discomfort and dread.

The fact that Lois Murphy has spent some time on the road in Australia shines through in this novel. The characters are misfits, already on the outer before the mist arrives, unable to sit neatly in twenty-first-century suburban Australia. Though, instead of being people who have done their time in regular society and have now decided to live on the road, these people are victims of circumstance: the world has passed them by and forgotten about them. The desperate fatality of individuals and groups trying to survive in a world that is trying to erase them is what drives this tightly wound, menacing book.


Michael McLoughlin works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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