An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire has been short-listed for this year’s Stella Prize. I discovered this novel after hearing Maguire speak at Adelaide Writers Week and became intrigued after hearing her speak out it. This novel is a psychological thriller that follows Chris in the aftermath of her sister Bella’s murder. Bella was the perfect victim: young, naive and innocent. Everything that Chris is not. What follows is the mystery that is what happened to Bella, how Chris deals with her grief and how the media reacts to this horror.
After hearing Maguire speak about this novel it was clear just how passionate Maguire is about violence towards women, how it is dealt with in the media and the victim blaming that occurs. Maguire captures perfectly what it is to be a women. How it feels to know you should be cautious of strange men, how the men in your life can keep you safe and protect you, that it until they don’t. How it is instilled in the female psyche to be cautious, to now walk alone in the dark, to walk to your car with a key between your knuckles because with out the caution you are vulnerable. But with that caution comes feelings of guilt, of being over sensitive and a bit ridiculous, that is until something happens. She gives fascinating insight into how these thoughts all play out in your mind. Interestingly Maguire pointed out that in the book she does not describe what happens to Bella that night. There are references to the horror, yet no specific descriptions. Depressingly enough there is no need, we in society know all to well what violence, both physical and sexual, towards women looks like all too well. No description is necessary.
Maguire provides an intimate and accurate insight into grief and how it manifests in us. Chris unsurprisingly experiences psychological trauma as a result of her sisters murder and the reader follows her on this rollercoaster ride. Her visit to the police station, to the site where Bella’s body was dumped, the long hours alone with only her thoughts and of being so distraught missing her sister that it almost feels like she is still there with her. The reader gains an understanding of what these families and people left behind must go through. From the way they are treated by friends, neighbours and colleagues, to the effects that media coverage and other people’s agendas, no matter how well they mean, can have. I would highly recommend picking this up just to gain a different perspective from the typical story starting with a murder and going from there. This book explores those left behind.
A highlight in this novel for me was the way Maguire perfectly captures the language that would be best described as Aussie bogan (I say this as I am fluent in it myself and grew up in a country town). The tone of Chris’ inner monologue is so accurate I feel like I have met her myself down the pub, pouring my pint of West End. She hits this and the small town descriptions right on the head. “Pete – plumber Pete – not bottle-o Pete” was one line that stuck in my mind as authentically small town, capturing the essence of what it is to be a resident in a place like this. Overall, this is a very strong novel with some relevant concepts that we should all be considering in today’s society. I would highly recommend picking this up and familiarising yourself with Maguire’s work. I give An Isolated Incident four beers that Chis pulls at the pub.