The Town by Shaun Prescott
It’s telling how a novel sets up, and answers, its mysteries. I’ve always preferred the ones that don’t sacrifice plot for character or vice-versa, and instead meet somewhere in the middle. The Town, the first novel by Australian author Shaun Prescott, hits this particular sweet spot, giving us a book that’s both incredibly strange and incredibly gripping in equal measure.
The novel starts with its unnamed narrator moving to a small Australian town, where he’s stacking shelves at one of its many supermarkets and working on a book about disappearing towns in the area. He has trouble convincing the townsfolk of these places, since they no longer exist, even as the town they’re in is slowly edging towards the same fate. Alongside his research into disappearing towns, the narrator drinks beer at an empty pub, hangs out with his flatmate Rob’s girlfriend, while she distributes cassette tapes around town, rides the town’s only bus (which no one ever catches), and frets about being bashed for no reason by a townsperson he doesn’t know named Steve Sanders. The Town is a novel filled with outsiders: people who suddenly find themselves adults even though they still feel like they’re teenagers, a music scene wholly invented by a radio host who has no listeners, and a seasonal disco that inevitably turns into a huge brawl every time it’s held.
Prescott has a real skill of presenting the banality of everyday life in a way that is wholly original and strange, but his real achievement here is that each aspect of this novel is expertly balanced, and the distanced tone manages to make the story’s most bizarre aspects seem commonplace. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll get a more original Australian novel this year.
Chris Somerville works for the online team at Readings.