When I was young I wrote a lot of fiction. Embarrassingly amateurish, most of it – derivative, clunky juvenilia – but I’d like to think some of it showed a modicum of promise.
Throughout high school and university I had a good friend who also wrote stories and novellas. He was a dabbler, like me – we were writing for our own amusement and for each other mostly, and barely dared to hope that we’d one day be published authors.
(Maybe someday; and more likely it’d be me to achieve success because I was clearly the better writer, I secretly assured myself.)
But instead of pursuing a life of tortured, literary genius I gravitated towards a more conventional writing career: journalism. It didn’t feel like a consolation prize: I’d get to write for a dependable pay check, travel the world and have the occasional adventure. Certainly not a bad option.
My friend chose a different path, sticking with fiction and honing his craft. His name was Shaun Prescott and he’s just published his first novel.
And it’s brilliant.
He remains a good friend, so grain of salt and all that. Honestly though, some small, horrible little part of me wanted this book to be bad: that would have made me feel better about my own stalled ambition and squandered “talent”. But it is objectively excellent.
Set in the Central West of NSW – where we both grew up – it’s grounded in small town Australiana, and Shaun brings his unique brand of insight to that milieu. But something strange is happening here – towns are disappearing, as if being erased from existence, and no one seems to realise it’s happening.
This is not plot-heavy apocalyptica but rather uninviting and uncompromising literary fiction, a devastating – but also sympathetic – dissection of Australian culture and character.
Shaun’s voice is stunningly assured for a first-time novelist, and totally true to who he is. The tone and oppressive atmosphere of the book is incredibly consistent; the balance between realism and surrealism impeccable.
And yet there’s wit and humour here too – which is quite remarkable because Shaun’s never been a particularly funny guy.
Having now seen what Shaun’s capable of, I hope he gets the recognition he richly deserves. I wish for him all the awards and stunning commercial success, so that he can do this full-time. I want to read more by this man, a good friend and a truly excellent writer.