Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 31, 2017

Soon, by Lois Murphy

As I said in my post last night advertising the giveaway for this debut novel by Lois Murphy, Soon is fascinating reading. What I didn’t know when I wrote that, just before bedtime, was that I wasn’t going to be able to put the book down and turn out the light.  Don’t start reading this book at bedtime if you have to get up and go to work the next day!

As with my recent reading of Claire G Coleman’s Terra Nullius, I’m going to have to be careful of spoilers…

‘Nebulah’ – with its echoes of ‘nebulous’ – is a clever name for the fictional inland town in Western Australia where the action takes place.  It is very remote, three hours drive away from the nearest town of Woodford, which is also small and remote, and itself a good long drive from Mandurah.  The story begins with the suicide of an old man called Rolf who couldn’t go on with the loneliness of eking out a living in a dying town.

Twelve months before, Nebulah had a population of just over 500.  Like many small rural towns its days were numbered, but it was clinging to survival. But this stoic population fled after the arrival of a mysterious mist which arrives each night at dusk to terrorise the inhabitants.  And now the diehards who refused to leave have had a shocking blow though they knew it was inevitable: Liz, a single mother who stayed because she had nowhere else to go, has finally had enough and fled with her children, and her departure was the last straw for Rolf.  From eleven people sticking it out, they are now down to six.

Pete, an ex-policeman who narrates the story, is a fine example of how Murphy has subverted familiar genres. Yes, he’s world-weary, and yes, he specialises in failed relationships, and yes, he smokes and drinks to excess.  But he’s not a detective trying to solve a crime.  As it says in the blurb, inspired in part by the diehards who refuse to leave the tragic town of Wittenoom even though they risk a fatal disease and an horrific death from mesothelioma, the interest in this novel is the characters who remain in the face of an insistent danger.  Pete stays because he has bonded with two women, and they won’t leave.  The widow Milly won’t leave the home she had with Gavin who died in a road smash twelve years ago, and Li is a Cambodian refugee from the Khmer Rouge who has painstakingly rebuilt her life by growing organic produce for the co-op in Woodford.  Although Milly and Li are both staunchly independent women and don’t need his protection, Pete, Milly and Li have formed a kind of protective network – along with a neurotic couple called Gail and Tom and a dubious character nicknamed Stick, who has a different kind of crop well-suited to being grown in an isolated place.

The only horror I’ve ever read is by Edgar Allan Poe and that just made me laugh, so I Googled ‘tropes of horror fiction’ to see if I could identify how Lois Murphy has managed to subvert the horror genre.  I came across a very interesting article at Writers Digest, which was called ‘The Horror Genre: On Writing Horror and Avoiding Clichés’  This was not only helpful in explaining what the clichés were to someone unfamiliar with the genre, but also showed me that Soon does exactly what’s suggested: she has certainly created an atmosphere of terror that makes the reader’s heart gallop, but she has created an evil where characters are confronted not by a monster in a mask but by what’s in a mirror.

The novel is grounded in realism, even though there are fantastic elements.  Murphy plays with reader scepticism too, with her portrayal of a clairvoyant called Alex warning of impending doom on the night of the coming winter solstice, and then there are some witless university students on a jaunt with a white witch called Xandrea.   Her portrayal of the way young people under peer pressure box themselves into a corner from which they can’t escape is brilliant.

I’m not an impressionable reader, but overnight when I took a brief adjournment from the book to make myself some middle-of-the-night hot chocolate and rest my tired eyes, it crossed my mind – just momentarily in that moment from subconscious thought to reality – that there could be something swirling around out there on the other side of our French windows!

Soon was the winner of the Tasmanian Premier’s Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript, and it’s published by Barry Scott from Transit Lounge (who have brought us last year’s Miles Franklin winner Black Rock White City by Alec Patric and From the Wreck by Jane Rawson, and a stack of other beaut titles as well).

I have a spare ARC copy of Soon to give away to readers with an Aussie postcode, so if you are interested, visit here and put your name into the draw (closing in the middle of September 2017).  But if you want to be sure of getting your own copy, you can pre-order the book from Fishpond at this link: Soon

Author: Lois Murphy
Title: Soon
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2017
ISBN: 9780995409804
Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge.

 


Responses

  1. I know it’s fiction but I’m going to have to read this just to get a handle on the geography. W**m is 250 km north of Newman (near Andrew Forrest’s Solomons iron ore mine) on the edge of the Karajini national Park, about 100 km by dirt road from Tom Price, and 1400 km or so north of Perth (Mandurah is now the outermost coastal suburb south of Perth). Lot’s of older road signs, especially between Nanutarra and Tom Price are blank where there used to the word W**m.

    • Um, are we not supposed to even name it, to discourage tourists?

      • No, I was just joking. I think the government’s ban on road signs is ridiculous. It’s a few years since I’ve been there but I think the turn off to Solomon is in or very near the town site (coming from Munjina on the inland, Great Northern Hwy)

        • I read somewhere (Wikipedia?) that the government originally proposed turning the town into a tourist attraction and only decided not to when they realised *doh* that it wasn’t worth the cost of clean up and the risk of getting sued if someone contracted mesothelioma…
          This tourism scenario gets a mention in the novel…

  2. I enjoyed your review, thanks :-)

    • Thanks, Tracey/ Love your moniker!

  3. […] And here’s here’s my (no spoilers) review. […]


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