Shannon Burns reviews 'The Town' by Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott’s début novel shares obvious conceptual territory with the fiction of Franz Kafka and Gerald Murnane, both of whom are mentioned in its promotional material. As with The Castle (1926) and The Plains (1982), The Town recounts the dreamlike experiences and observations of an enigmatic narrator–protagonist after he arrives in an unnamed town. But unlike Kafka’s surveyor or Murnane’s filmmaker, Prescott’s narrator is a writer who claims to be researching ‘a book about the disappearing towns in the Central West region of New South Wales’. These towns ‘had not deteriorated economically, its residents had not flocked to the closest regional towns in search of work, the buildings had not been dismantled’. Instead, they had ‘simply disappeared’. When this project fails, he decides to write a history of the town he now lives in, in the hope of uncovering its ‘essence’.

The town’s inhabitants have a curious relationship with their history. According to the local librarian, ‘Nothing of note has ever happened in this town, and by the time it does, there will no longer be any point in remembering it ... No one remembers how it got here, or why the presumed founders built it ...’ If it does have a significant history, the townspeople have since forgotten or wilfully expunged it.

The town is positioned somewhere between a coastal city and the deep interior – rural with a suburban flavour – with its outer region bordered by a mysterious shimmering ‘edge’. The main street is dotted with corporate franchises, and the ‘tentacle roads’ of the outer districts house ‘normal’ people who are nostalgic for an obscure past, own multiple cars, drink heavily, and resent outsiders.

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