A gothic thriller exploring rural Australia’s simultaneous celebration of harsh country and stoic people – a tension that forces its inhabitants to dangerous breaking points.
On a remote property in western NSW, nine-year-old Parker fears that something is wrong with his brain. His desperate attempts to control this internal chaos spark a series of events that gallop from his control in deadly and devastating ways.
Years later, Parker, now a father himself, returns to the bushland he grew up in for a camping trip with old friends. When this reunion descends into chaos amid revelations of unresolved fear, guilt and violence, Parker must finally address the consequences of his childhood actions.
'One of the best Australian novels I've ever read' - Lee Kofman
'Quite simply a masterpiece' - Lyn Yeowart
'This is a not-to-be-missed reading experience' - Hayley Scrivenor
Shortlisted for the 2022 Australian Shadows Awards
One of The Guardian's Best Australian Books of 2022
One of Booktopia's Best Books of 2022
One of Arts Hub's Top Reads for 2022
Audiobook narrated by Matthew Pearce
'Mesmerising, eviscerating, beguilingly strange and darkly lyrical – Denizen is a feat of talent and artistic courage, the kind of a book about which you can only speak using most powerful adjectives. This novel, I believe, is destined to become one of Australia’s modern classics. A dazzling debut and one of the best Australian novels I’ve ever read.' Lee Kofman, author of The Dangerous Bride and The Writer Laid Bare
'If you think you like a twist at the end of a compelling read, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve read Denizen. ... This book absolutely blew me away. A must-read.' Sally Hepworth, internationally bestselling author of The Soulmate and The Good Sister
'Denizen is breathtaking, utterly breathtaking. Superbly written, perfectly paced, and with characters that leave you aching, it is quite simply a masterpiece. Be prepared to have your mind blown.' Lyn Yeowart, author of The Silent Listener
‘Denizen is a novel everyone will be talking about. It’s equal parts gripping, devastating and gut-wrenching as it tackles a myriad of meaty themes including fatherhood, mental illness, and the ruggedness of rural Australia – both its people and the landscape. It’s one part literary thriller, another part psychological study, blended powerfully and uncompromisingly.' Simon McDonald, PRH ABA Young Bookseller of the Year
'This is a taut, tense, and fast-moving tale of how a mind ravels and unravels, of a terrible reckoning decades in the making, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. ... I was shaken and moved and stunned. I can’t remember the last time a book rocked me to my core like Denizen did.’ Michelle Tom, author of Ten Thousand Aftershocks
‘A raw and powerful piece of outback gothic that fearlessly tackles some big issues and wraps them up in a twisty psychological thriller that draws the reader inexorably towards a devastating climax. It’s a Venus flytrap of a book.' Justin Ratcliffe, Publishing Director of PRH Australia
‘Such an incredibly powerful debut. Absolutely gripping. ... Beautifully written, cleverly constructed and devastatingly depicted. ... Shook me up and stayed with me long after I finished the last page.’ Petronella McGovern, author of The Good Teacher and The Liars
'A gut-wrenching and mesmerising literary thriller. .... Confronting and powerful and in a league of its own.' Dinuka McKenzie, author of The Torrent
‘There’s a brutal ferocity between mother and son in Denizen. James McKenzie Watson doesn’t pull his punches at all. … All is at risk and there is nowhere safe.’ David Vann, internationally bestselling author of Legend of a Suicide
‘Denizen overturns expectations and avoids easy solutions. ... This is not easy subject matter to treat, yet Watson handles it masterfully.’ Luke Stegemann, author of Amnesia Road and The Beautiful Obscure
‘A new Australian talent for fans of David Vann and Cormac McCarthy.’ Ashley Kalagian Blunt, author of Dark Mode
'The visceral and affecting writing gets under your skin. ... This is a not-to-be-missed reading experience.' Hayley Scrivenor, author of Dirt Town
'This will be a must for all book clubs. ... James McKenzie Watson has an incredible literary career ahead.' RWR McDonald, author of The Nancys
'This book is one of those rare beasts: a literary page-turner. ... One of the best (Australian) novels I’ve read in years.' Al Campbell, author of The Keepers
'Unsettling, brilliantly crafted and utterly original.' Yves Rees, author of All About Yves
'One of the most darkly compulsive novels I’ve read in a very long time ... Knock-out powerful and deeply affecting.' Anna Downes, author of The Safe Place and The Shadow House
Arts Hub (Erich Mayer) | 'One of the best novels by an Australian author in recent times.' ★★★★★
Readings (Chris Gordon) | 'Don’t read it late at night unless you have nerves of steel (...) I devoured it and have considered it many times over on completion.'
Writing NSW (Amy Lovat) | 'It’s haunting and visceral and so, so emotive.' ★★★★★
The Guardian (Sian Cain) | 'This is (McKenzie Watson's) first novel after winning the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize and just a few pages into Denizen, you can see why he won.'
The Canberra Times (Frank O'Shea) | 'The writing is quite brilliant, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the minds of the characters. (...) You will not easily forget this book.'
The Weekend Australian (Samuel Bernard) | 'Dark, violent, raw and devastatingly honest. (...) This novel is bound to get book clubs talking.'
Good Reading Magazine (Neale Lucas) | 'Watson does not pull any punches with this book. (...) Hard to stop turning the pages.' ★★★★★
Weekender (Channel 7) | 'We've got a lot of very successful and very talented authors that write about the outback, but this is done in a different way. (...) The writing is so beautiful.'
Booksmut (Bookstagram) | 'This book floored me. I cannot believe it’s a debut, I cannot believe how ballsy, DARK and artistically confident it is and I cannot get over the ending. The most powerful, uncompromising read of the year.'
An Open Bookshelf (Bookstagram) | 'I think about this book constantly (...) Up there as one of the best Australian debuts I've ever read and my favourite book of 2022.'
Cass Moriarty (author of The Promise Seed and book blogger) | 'Crafted with an authorial authority unusual for a debut writer (...) I am blown away by his audacity in writing such a novel.'
Naomi Shippen (writer and book blogger) | 'Startling (...) beautifully written, stark and raw. (...) A superbly written novel that challenges the romanticism Australians hold for life on the land.'
Sanchwrites (Bookstagram) | 'I will be thinking about it for a long, long time and it will definitely be one of my top reads this year. (...) Do yourself a favour and run to the bookstore now.'
Hungry Thesaurus (Bookstagram) | 'The hype is 100% valid and not an increment overdone.'
Debbish (writer and book blogger) | 'I was blown away (...) This is a stunning read.'
Zachary Pryor (writer and book blogger) | 'I think I’ll read Denizen again and again and again. A solid 5 stars for me and a new contender for my favourite book of the year.'
Lisa Kenway (writer and book blogger) | 'If you love Cormac McCarthy and Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A Little Life’, this one is for you. ... James McKenzie Watson is a writer to watch.'