Book Review: “Soon” by Lois Murphy (@transitlounge2)

Winner of the 2017 Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel, Lois Murphy’s Soon is suitable for those enjoying classic Australian tales like Picnic at the Hanging Rock and Wolf Creek.

The fictional town of Nebulah here is partly inspired by the true story of Wittenoom, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, that was once our country’s only supplier of blue asbestos. The town had been slowly dying since 1966, when asbestos mining ended.

Wittenoom was degazetted in 2007, and its name has been removed from official maps and road signs. It receives no government services, but a handful of stubborn stragglers remain. Murphy describes them as being “completely isolated and, in a bureaucratic sense, kind of non-existent”.

Like its real-life counterpart, Nebulah is tiny and forlorn. In this remote community lives Pete, the book’s first-person narrator, a misfit in his own life as a husband, father and policeman. To him, isolation means escape from all his existing and potential failures.

However, one night, a mysterious mist appears, and inside it are the ghostly figures of the town’s dead. The ghosts call to their loved ones, trying to lure them outdoors, and those who venture out are taken by the malicious mist.

Slowly but surely, the townspeople are either devoured or driven out, leaving only six residents. Each night when darkness falls, they seal up their doors and windows, draw their curtains and turn up the volume of their music, trying to ignore the enticing calls of the mist.

Reading this story is a delightful exercise of being tormented by dread and suspense, as we see the characters struggling to remain safe and sane. Living under siege, their sense of loneliness and isolation is intensified by the merciless mist, which taunts them with their own memories and secrets.

On top of their fears and anxieties, the residents are warned that they must leave Nebulah for good before the forthcoming winter solstice – or face death. It is here that we ask: Exactly what is it that keeps them from leaving this godforsaken place?

In Murphy’s words: “To say unequivocally to these people, ‘It’s dangerous, you must go’, ignores fundamental human concepts of home, such as identification and community and sense of place.” We have learned such concepts from our beloved 1997 film The Castle.

The question here is far more complex than leaving or staying. Again in Murphy’s words, around our world today there are “legions of displaced people forced from their homes and communities, the places they had invested in on so many levels: financially, culturally, socially and emotionally”.

Perhaps the most frightening part is that Negulah, like its real-life counterpart, is forgotten by the outside world. There is no rescue. Those who have lost everything after falling through the cracks are left to fend for themselves. That, surely, is the true horror.

Lois Murphy’s Soon was published by Transit Lounge in October 2017. You can find a digital or print edition of the book in your local library.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “Death Town”, by Ranges Trader Star Mail, April 13, 2021, Page 4.

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