An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident is the story of a brutal murder in a rural Australian town. The victim, Bella Michaels, was a much-loved member of the community and her death stuns not only those that knew her but the whole nation. Her sister, Chris, is left to grieve, search for answers, and deal with the growing media interest in Bella’s death.

I’ll get straight to the point – I didn’t care for this book at all. Am I wrong to have immediately thought that the story exploited the Jill Meagher case? And that there was a hint of treading the same path as Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things?

I suspect that Maguire’s aim was to spotlight the violence of men; the intrusiveness and grubbiness of the media, particularly when their focus is on a dead pretty girl with a seemingly ‘impeccable’ past; and the horror of having to grieve in the public eye. Some of this she achieves through the character of Chris, whose grief is raw, angry and inconsolable. However, the guts of the issues were not explored in a substantial or decisive way and I was left wondering if Maguire had defeated her own purpose.

A word on Maguire’s style – her use of the vernacular for the character of Chris was consistent but I felt overdone –

“I’m not trying to be dramatic. For real, how do you survive it? How do you go on every day every day every day living your life, everything the same, except now you’re doing it from the middle of this swamp of black blood? How do you drink your morning tea, chat with a friend, pour some beers, have a laugh, have a root, whatever, all of it while pushing and kicking and trying not to drown in the blackness?”

Like any person in the depths of grief, Chris comes to understand that you don’t simply ‘get over it’ – closure is a myth. Grief never quite leaves you – you go on, you survive, but a corner of you is damaged. Being able to examine that damage gets easier with time but it is what is – damage. Maguire’s insightful portrayal of Chris’s grief was the most admirable aspect of this story.

2/5 Not for me.

Comfort food for Chris is toasted cheese smothered in tomato sauce (I’d prefer if you to hold the sauce and use fresh tomato instead).



17 responses

  1. I agree with you. I found being addressed by Chris contrived though I think the overall topic, men’s violence, was worth doing and not IMO derivative. I don’t have your skill at picking out food themes, but yes! sliced tomato, or a little chutney, much better on toasted cheese.

    • Chris’s voice didn’t seem a natural one for Maguire but then again, I don’t know enough about her or her writing to know if this is true. Personally, I found the constant references to ‘lippy’ and ‘choccie’ too much.

  2. I think this story was great, and saw it no way related to Charlotte Wood’s s novel which I did not enjoy. However, I can see a vague connection to Jill Meagher. Yet, it is the beauty of reading that we can all see different aspects in a novel.

    • For me, the similarities to Wood’s novel were in the examination of women and their portrayal in media. I think there was also some parallels with the character of May and some of what Wood was saying in TNWOT – that sometimes women are the harshest judges of each other.
      The Jill Meagher case was huge in Melbourne, for so many reasons. It immediately came to mind when I started this book and even more so when rallies were organised for Bella.

  3. I thought the use of Chris’s voice was great, as was the novel. Like Meg I saw no direct relationship to Charlotte Wood’s novel (except in the superficial way of the treatment of women), and in any case, Maguire would have been writing this before the publication of Wood’s novel.

    • I’m not suggesting that Maguire used TNWOT in any way – clearly the issues around violence against women and the portrayal in the media are topical. I guess for me, I found Wood’s take on the issue more thought-provoking and certainly more memorable. I think I’m in the minority with this book – most loved it.

  4. So interested in your take on it. It hasn’t been a book I was keen to read – and then the stella longlisting…but then, you know, I am in the middle of reading “Rush Oh!” and I think it’s the BEST Australian book I have read in ages…and yet, where are the prizes? Although I think it was longlisted for the Baileys? Anyway – I’m going to take your word for it and avoid this one!

    • I read it because of the Stella – normally not the kind of thing I’d go for.

      Totally agree about Rush Oh! – what a marvellous book that was overlooked when it came to prizes.

  5. I’ve just bought this one (I had to order it from Australia cos it’s not available here; Picador in Oz don’t ever seem to publish their Aussie novels outside of Australia), so it will be interesting to see if our thoughts chime on this one.

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  7. Wow, we have such different opinions on this! I did think of Natural Way of Things when I was reading this, but only in the sense of both books being about a current cultural phenomenon that is rarely addressed in a (powerful) fictional way. Interesting that the comments here are so divided – I assumed it was universally loved!
    (And I’m soon to get to Rush Oh!…)

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