The Bus on Thursday (Shirley Barrett, A&U)
Eleanor Mellett, a young woman recovering from breast cancer and a relationship break-up, retreats to a small country town in New South Wales to restart her life and career. But all is not as it seems. The town of Talbingo is adrift from the modern world: no internet, sporadic phone reception and with a cast of moody, strange inhabitants. What follows is a surreal, unnerving romp told entirely from Eleanor’s point of view. The local primary school teacher Miss Barker, who Eleanor is replacing, has disappeared without a trace. There are far too many locks on Eleanor’s front door, and furtive scratches can be heard at night. Eleanor herself complicates things: she’s an unreliable and slightly unhinged narrator whose angry, alcohol- and drug-fuelled thoughts border on the sociopathic. Shirley Barrett knows how to draw a reader into a psychological conundrum: is this small town filled with actual demons? Or has Eleanor succumbed to her own delusions? The Bus on Thursday is reminiscent of Barrett’s brilliant film Love Serenade, a dark comedy that also explored the dark undercurrents of rural Australia, isolation and unfulfilled desires. Recommended for readers who prefer their stories fast paced and unpredictable.
Helene Ephraim is a freelance reviewer who has worked as a bookseller and librarian