Fiction and dreams have a complicated, even toxic, relationship. Fiction is already a simulation of reality, with varying degrees of fidelity to The Real; and likewise, the process of reading, much like dreaming – and indeed writing – involves a theatrical envisioning of images in the mind. But dreams are maligned as narrative devices. Henry James’s fin-de-siècle advice – “tell a dream, lose a reader” – is aggressively ignored in print and on screen where, in the hands of plot-minded dramatists, dreams are no longer the anarchic spontaneities of the unconscious. Rather, they are tamed and subdued in the service of advancing plot or revealing character, and thus lose the allure of the uncanny.
Shaun Prescott, a writer from the Blue Mountains, explores a third relation between dreams and fiction: the embrace of dreaming as a complete diegetic plane. Prescott’s portrayal of dreamscapes in his debut novel The Town drew critical comparisons with the works of Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino and Gerald Murnane. In the novel, an unnamed writer visits an unnamed town while researching his book-in-progress about the “disappearing towns of the Central West of New South Wales”. With a narrative style that attempted to capture, however defectively, the uncanny logic of REM sleep, Prescott blurred the distinctions between the literal and figurative disappearance of towns. They were forgotten, dismissed, abandoned, unmapped – but also literally disappeared before the protagonist’s eyes.
Bon and Lesley reads like a second fragment of the same fever dream that produced The Town. Both are set in barren rural towns and involve an apathetic cast of characters inhabiting an unconventionally plotted narrative. It begins with Bon stepping off the train at a fictional town named Newnes, where he becomes stranded. He soon forms a family bond with a trio of oddballs – including two local brothers in their mid-30s who are proverbial man-children caught in the unattractive sloth of adolescence – and Lesley, a fellow stranger who has arrived in Newnes with an equally opaque past. Together they roam the moody town, filling the days with heavy drinking, scavenging through supermarket discounts for repellent meals and searching the outskirts for hidden pathways and portals.
Prescott is a skilled conveyer of ostranenie – the effect of estranging the familiar. Like a half-remembered dream or psychedelic trip, Bon and Lesley becomes more difficult to grasp as it progresses, but discovers its true joys in its textured atmospherics, the compulsion of disorientation and the allure of the uncanny.
Giramondo, 288pp, $29.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 10, 2022 as "Bon and Lesley, Shaun Prescott".
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