Lloyd Jones / Text Publishing / $30
When a pair of strangers turns up in a small country town, the locals are curious. Obviously down on their luck, the men are dressed in rags, have no money and appear to be on the run from something. However, they refuse to answer any questions about the disaster that is presumed to have befallen them. The locals are initially hospitable then wary. The men’s reluctance to speak arouses suspicion, followed by fear. Sensing which way the wind is blowing, they try to slip away but the townsfolk turn vigilante, hunting them down and imprisoning them in a cage in the hotel’s backyard. Their novice jailer, the young nephew of the hotel proprietors, feeds and waters the captives. He also has to report on their behaviour to the “trustees” who run the town and display a warped concern for the comfort of their “guests”. Lloyd Jones, short-listed for The Man Booker Prize in 2007 for the multi-awarded Mister Pip, has crafted a profound and unsettling allegorical fable with his latest novel. Its powerful message camouflaged by almost fairytale simplicity, The Cage explores how quickly humanity and dignity can segue into brutality when communication breaks down. Trust is revealed as fragile, forever at the mercy of authoritarian impulse.