The Archaeology of a Dream City

2022 - Shortlisted


Judges' Comments 

This is a resonant, introspective, quietly intellectual first novel of historical discovery. It is European in style and scope — set between an imaginary (or partly imaginary) Eastern Europe and its postwar mirror in contemporary Melbourne. This connection between the two worlds (including the transfer of trauma) is embodied in its characters Martha, who lives in Melbourne, and her cousin Klara in ‘Czawa’.  

The novel’s effect evokes George Perec’s imaginary country, ‘W’ — rigorously precise but also haunting and shimmeringly unreal: a river forms from droplets in a leaky tent, flowing beneath Martha’s camp bed, and a girl emerges from hiding in the forest to swim along it; a gateway is ‘the entrance to an invisible world, made up of several epochs or periods all laid on top of each other and then folded together’. This novel invites readers into the unsettling pace and surreal potential of a dream world, where beauty and nightmare entangle to powerful, transformative effect.