Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 26, 2022

Bon and Lesley (2022), by Shaun Prescott

The last time Shaun Prescott released a novel, it made quite a splash, and indeed the catalyst for me to buy a copy of The Town was a generous review by Ed Wright in The Australian’s Weekend Review.  Jennifer Mills, who reviewed it for the Sydney Review of Books acknowledged the feeling of familiarity that begins The Town for readers of Murnane but suggested that it was more useful to think of this as an echo, an homage, or even a sample. I hadn’t seen Mills’ review when I wrote mine, but I made the case that Prescott’s novel wasn’t like the fictions that Murnane himself describes as conceptual literature.  Prescott’s fictions — both The Town and now Bon and Lesley — offer the adventure of exploring an imaginative mindscape somewhat like Gerald Murnane’s — but Prescott’s writing differs by having characters, a plot (of sorts) and a setting, surreal though they be.

However, what I like about reading Prescott is what I also like about reading Murnane and Brian Castro too.  I don’t presume to make reductive judgements about these authors, but I don’t think the idea is that we should ‘understand’ them in a conventional sense, and certainly not at a first reading.  For me, the pleasure is in reading the prose as a catalyst for tangential thoughts, and inspired by the text, to observe and consider, in a more intense way. To notice things differently.  I like the freedom of reading these authors, beyond the words on the page.

Reading Prescott does take time.  I meander through the pages because the characters’ concerns distract me into introspections of my own…

The novel begins with Bon succumbing to his inclination to step out of his mundane life.  He gets off his commuter train at Newnes, an apparently ordinary regional town with little to offer.  He meets up with Steven, a man of opinions so numerous that Bon soon absorbs them like the background noise of a radio.  They wander around the town together, following trails to non-existent destinations in the forest, returning to town to have inconclusive interactions with a few other people, and to stock up on take-away, booze and cigarettes. The stagnation of their days is a mask for the sense of crisis in their lives, and ours.

The novel is cleverly constructed so that Steven’s monologues are punctuated by Bon’s internal responses, and eventually also by responses from Lesley, a fellow-refugee from the city, and from Jack, Steven’s monosyllabic brother.  Bon and Lesley reflect so much about their responses to anything, that they rarely actually respond to anything at all.  Bon, for example, is not the sort to come to people’s aid, lest they feel condescended to. 

#TangentialThoughts: As we become more aware of the social model of disability and how making an offer to help might be a form of ableism in some contexts, we hesitate.  Is the person able to deal with what appears to be a difficulty on their own, having already developed strategies for dealing with the situation?  Bon is observing a crowd of people who’ve been arbitrarily dumped by a train which doesn’t normally terminate at Newnes.  They are floundering around, apparently uncertain about what to do, in a town they do not know.  But he coped with a similar situation, so by offering to help is he denying them agency or an experience for personal growth?  Is he insulting them, by implying that they can’t manage, as he did? Is a kindly-meant impulse patronising in some contexts?

Steven does not expect anyone to respond to his monologues, but they represent serious concerns all the same.  When he brings Bon to a beautiful place in the forest, his loquacity extends to two pages that pierce the concept of a ‘bucket list.’

It’s a magical road, isn’t it Bon?  And magical all the more for the fact it goes nowhere.  The road just peters off into rough grass and then there’s a stormwater drain.  Across the stormwater drain, there’s a strip of brown grass and a line of Colorbond fence and then some houses.  Whoever built this road, did so because they knew this to be a beautiful location for a road, and likewise, they must have known that it was a beautiful and suitable place for these trees.  Never mind that this road could not possibly go anywhere, because it would be a waste of this space not to have such a beautiful road.  There are no statues or signs or anything else celebrating what this road commemorates.  It’s just here, beautifully commemorating nothing. (p.32)

But he goes on then, to argue that there is no point in seeing it.  Even if Bon loves and appreciates its beauty, he still has to go home, and having seen this beauty he will be discontented.  He’ll probably rarely or never visit it again.

The walk to this road might be full of anticipation and joy, but once reached, and once this road is merely looked at, you’ll need to walk back home, and the walk home will frustrate you.  You’ll continue to know the road’s here, but knowing this will only cause you pain, because you’ll look at our street and our house and our weeded backyard and think: this is a pathetic sight.  (p.33)

Photos of the road might spark conversations about it, but the truth is that seeing it again involves going out of their way, and they can’t ever get their fill of it anyway.  Seeing the road in this new light makes it an underwhelming road after all.

#TangentialThoughts: Steven’s perspective triggers thoughts about Bucket List Tourism and (even more tangentially) its impact on climate change.  When we travel, we generate carbon emissions.  If we are responsible citizens, we may offset these emissions by buying carbon credits in one form or another.  (The last time I flew somewhere, the carbon offset of my flight was optional, and I wonder how many travellers choose it.) Had I not been offsetting my vehicle emissions through Greenfleet when we stumbled on the glorious view at Sublime Point in NSW on our way back from the Hunter Valley, what would have been the impact? More importantly, Steven’s analysis raises the question: is the effort of getting there worth it? Who for? Millions of people all over the world seeking a bit of scenery when that quest is adding to the peril for our planet?

Sublime Point Lookout NSW

Bon and Lesley has some motifs in common with The Town: the ordinariness of the place with its recognisable shops and empty streets; the inertia of its anarchic characters; the shopping catalogues that constitute the only reading matter for so many; the unrecyclable litter that festoons their environment.  It’s this ordinariness that gives the novel its unsettling power: the sense that all around us there are apparently ordinary people living apparently ordinary lives that are actually fragile and at risk.

Just like our planet.

Image credit: Sublime Point Lookout NSWBy Adam.J.W.C. – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Author: Shaun Prescott
Title: Bon and Lesley
Cover image: Untitled, 2018-19, from Garage Romance by Tony Garifalakis
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing, 2022
ISBN: 9781922725257, pbk., 279 pages
Review copy courtesy of Giramondo Publishing


  1. This sounds incredibly powerful Lisa – not an author I had heard of before.


    • It’s only his second novel, though he’s been published shorter pieces elsewhere. But he writes in such a mature way, it’s quite remarkable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t heard of Prescott either, and I haven’t read Castro, though the comparison with Murnane probably means I should.

    Thinking about your last para, I wonder if I should plant a tree for, say, every thousand kms I travel. Plenty of overcleared mallee country in WA gone to salt pans could do with some salt tolerant flora though I’d have to persuade the farmer to water them. I wonder if mangroves could be persuaded to grow in salt lakes.


    • Well, it’s always a good thing when someone plants a tree…
      But really, emissions from transport, and trucks in particular is a problem requiring structural economic reform. IMO there should be an environmental tax on road users of all kinds, with transport industries recouping the money from their customers so that the real costs of the products are borne by the purchasers of the goods. Governments would use the taxes raised to remediate the emissions with trees and whatever…
      However, this would put up the price of everything, and so it absolutely should not happen without major structural reform of the taxation system and the welfare system. There would have to be adjustment for people on low incomes and welfare recipients, as Kevin Rudd’s original carbon reduction scheme did. There’ d also need to be a remote area allowance to make it fair for people in the bush who have to travel long distances just to do their shopping.
      It would take a government of great courage to do this, so I guess planting trees is a good thing to do in the meantime!


      • You’ll be pleased to know that electric trucks are being built in Australia (existing trucks are being repowered with electric motors) with a range for b-doubles of around 500km. Recharging is by swapping out batteries and takes just a few minutes. Trials have been taking place between Brisbane and Sydney and will soon be extended to Syd-Melb-Adel.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is good news:)
          I seem to see more and more electric buses around too.


  3. Imagine having a friend such as the character you describe who really over thinks everything. It did make me chuckle a bit. Sounds an interesting read I am not familiar with. Speaking of electric vehicles I wonder if you heard the ABC Interview with I forget his name, discussing electric airplanes being developed. I can’t imagine flying on a silent plane.


    • Oooh, that would be creepy. I mean, that endless drone of the engines drives me crazy when I’m on a longhaul flight but still, it’s reassuring to hear all the same!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ‘The Town’ left me feeling somewhat perplexed and I suspect I missed the point – as you say, it was surreal. But I’ll certainly give Prescott’s new novel a try.


    • Ah, now…
      *hunts on desk for press release*
      This is what Prescott says about having ‘a point’:
      I have never especially wanted to write novels that have a lot to do with obvious contemporary concerns, and I am probably not alone in feeling weary of modern novels that brush too explicitly against humankind’s unfolding situation. But I am an anxious human first, a parent second, novelist third, and the third is subservient to the concerns of the first two.
      So this is inevitably a novel with concerns, and they are not subtle ones. I won’t list them. It’s not a journalistic novel, nor a speculative one, nor an auto-fictional one. I wanted to avoid a languid authoritative subtlety, or in other words, that mode of fiction where the writer has a point, the reader quickly understands the point, but the point is skirted out of literary tastefulness, so that everyone tucks in feeling wider (but still, widely, doomed.) This is a novel written by a person with elevated understanding of the forces and phenomena that inspired its mood. I don’t have a point. It’s a work of imagination written by a parent, a worker, a family member, during a time of crisis. It’s a work of imagination contaminated by reality.”
      So there you are: he doesn’t have a ‘point’ so we don’t need to think that we have missed it!


      • Many thanks for that. Was he talking about ‘The Town’ or ‘Bon and Lesley’? When I said I suspect I missed the point of ‘The Town’, I meant it more generally: that the novel seemed to meander and that I felt vaguely dissatisfied at the end. I don’t think I was looking for ‘languid authoritative subtlety’ – whatever that means. The OED suggests that calling a book ‘languid’ is not a compliment.


        • It comes from an Author Note that came with the press release for Bon and Lesley, but I think it speaks to his philosophy of writing in general. As I said in the review, I think he, and Murnane and Castro, all write in a style that does seem to meander, so it’s a different sort of reading experience to most novels that we read.


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