Community radio host Ciara receives dozens of unmarked cassette recordings every week and broadcasts them to a listenership of none. Ex-musician Tom drives an impractical bus that no one ever boards. Publican Jenny runs a hotel that has no patrons. Rick wanders the aisles of the Woolworths every day in an attempt to blunt the disappointment of adulthood.
In a town of innumerable petrol stations, labyrinthine cul-de-sac streets, two competing shopping plazas, and ubiquitous drive-thru franchises, where are the townsfolk likely to find the truth about their collective past – and can they do so before the town disappears?
Shaun Prescott’s debut novel The Town follows an unnamed narrator’s efforts to complete a book about disappeared towns in the Central West of New South Wales. Set in a yet-to-disappear town in the region—a town believed by its inhabitants to have no history at all—the novel traces its characters’ attempts to carve their own identities in a place that is both unyielding and teetering on the edge of oblivion.
For admirers of Gerald Murnane, Wayne Macauley, Robert Walser, and Thomas Bernhard, this novel speaks to who we are as people and as a country, whether we like what it says or not.
“This novel signals its author as someone who understands what literature is for. It is one of the strongest and strangest contemporary Australian novels I've seen...It's possible to see the influence of Gerald Murnane in this book, in its style and in its focus on the strangeness of banality, but it's not so much derivativeness as a similarity of vision.”
Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald
“This is one of those rare books that bothers your thinking by making you feel uncomfortable without necessarily knowing why or how. The aftermath is a kind of free-fall. It’s a remarkable achievement and a testament to how the small publishers rather than the big houses are producing Australia’s best and riskiest fiction.”
Ed Wright, The Australian
“a deep dive into weirdness that reads like a blend of Donald Horne and García Márquez ... a gentle, if gnawing, safari of the existential dread on which Australia is built.”
The Saturday Paper
“The Town offers an experience of profound estrangement, not only from place and landscape, identity and community, but from reading a book, and perhaps even from meaning itself. Prescott is commendably unafraid to wander in among the tangled paradoxes Murnane has left lying in the field for him, and to kick them apart in his search for meaning, even if that leaves him with nothing left to kick except himself.”
Jennifer Mills, Sydney Review of Books
“The tone of the story is sustained and mesmeric, as it examines the unthinking rituals of our everyday lives, and our complex relationships with the past. It’s also very funny.”
Mandy Sayer, The Australian
“Shaun Prescott’s The Town is the best Australian book you will read this year. ... It is a hole dug in the middle of the outback; a door that leads to nowhere. And in its artful, brutal emptiness, it is one of the very best books you will read this year.”
Joseph Earp, The Brag
Prescott debuts with a promising allegory of an Australia in cultural and economic flux. An unnamed narrator moves to the Central West of New South Wales, planning to work on a book about rural towns in the region that have "simply disappeared" from the landscape along with the people who lived in them. After renting a room and getting a job in a grocery store, where he plays back dictations of his work in progress, vaguely planned as a hybrid of journalism and horror, the narrator befriends his roommate Rob's girlfriend, Ciara, a DJ with a late-night slot at a community radio station. Her feedback on the narrator's book ("she couldn't tell whether the book was fiction or fact") echoes questions that are sure to emerge from the reader. As bottomless holes start appearing throughout the town, people and buildings begin to vanish, the cost of goods increases, and civic order unravels. Ciara, who's broken up with Rob, plans an escape with the narrator. While the ephemeral details wear thin ("As the town disappeared, so did my grip on any particular town truth"), Prescott brilliantly captures the disconcerting effect of a town's changing storefronts, people, and customs on the newcomer and Ciara, offering stark reflections on the young characters' search for a sense of definition and permanence. Prescott is off to a strong start.